The Globe and Mail described it as “the stupidest business concept of all time.” Though “fail fast, fail often” may be counter-intuitive, this principle can be certainly useful. But you have to know how to fail properly.

If you have talked with as many startup entrepreneurs as I have, you will have heard the maxim, “Fail fast, fail often” many times – a little too often, perhaps. Because people wonder, how can failing be positive? Time to reframe the concept and make it intelligible without having to explain it for hours…

What Does "Fail Fast, Fail Often" Mean?

As a loyal reader of this blog, you will know what innovators mean when they say, “Fail fast, fail often.” For the new explorers of this subject, I will give a short summary of the concept: by constantly trying to achieve your goals, you are bound to make many mistakes, but at the same time, you will learn new skills and get fresh insights.

This philosophy appeals to growth hackers, and other innovative people who understand the positive side of failing. But we shouldn’t forget that failing has a negative connotation in the larger populace. More importantly, failing is shunned by business executives. So, to convince more people of a growth hacking mindset, it would be wise to redefine the concept of “failing.”

Failing = Learning

If we want to get management on board with our innovation projects, we have to stop talking about failing. We have to underscore the importance and value of learning. Instead of “fail fast, fail often”, let’s call it “test all day, learn all day.” (If you think you have a more catchy phrase, please leave it as a comment under this article.)

In my view, “test all day, learn all day” stands for early (in)validation of ideas. Early validation prevents corporations from making expensive innovation mistakes by pushing ideas and/or propositions which have no market traction. Yes, in this context, failing is OK, but you have to fail before the outcome will negatively affect your business.

In other words, what I recommend is to fail intelligently. Don’t go experimenting in a chaotic way, but measure your progress diligently. A great way to accomplish this is Innovation Accounting, a framework created by Eric Ries of The Lean Startup fame.

What Is Innovation Accounting?

The growth guru defines Innovation Accounting as “a way of evaluating progress when all the metrics typically used in an established company (revenue, customers, ROI, market share) are effectively zero.” In other words, it is a new kind of accounting, specific to startups.

The framework consists of 3 learning milestones:

  1. Establish the baseline

This is accomplished by building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and subsequently measuring how customers behave right now.

  1. Tune the engine

Experiment to see if you can improve metrics from the baseline towards the ideal. For example, use A/B testing.

  1. Pivot or persevere

Based on the validated learning, you decide to deliver additional value, or move on to something more valuable.

Take the Next Step

So, are you ready to fail, or – as I like to call it from now on – learn? The only thing I can recommend to you is just start experimenting! But one last piece of advice: our MVP Toolkit  can help prepare you for this task. It provides you with a framework, a list of must-reads, and some workshop canvases so you can start practicing right away. You can download the MVP Toolkit here.