Failure is not the goal
“Fail often” is a recurring mantra among many startup thought leaders, but there is a disconnect between the meaning of the phrase and the semantics that it is intended to convey in the context of startups that has been grating on me.
I understand the intent of statements like this, but I really think that the oversimplification of the creative process is starting to hurt us unconsciously. Mindless failure is not productive, and since our mantra is to fail, it makes it ok to give up too easily. What we should be saying is that we should try things that could fail more often–be unafraid to fail, which does imply that we will fail more often, but I think is better connected to what we are really trying to achieve. When I sit down to play guitar, I don’t say “I want to play more bad notes”, but I know that I won’t learn more challenging material without doing so in the process.
Seth Godin said “good ideas come from bad ideas”. Although I reject the notion that an idea is either good or bad intrisically, the underlying theme is that ideas that work are necessarily a subset of all ideas that are on the table. It turns out that the most effective–and in many cases the only–way of finding the ones that work is to try them all.
I would say that it might be wise to try out only that have some hope of succeeding, but it seems overly optimistic that anyone can achieve this without inadvertently killing some good ideas in the process.
The goal is not to fail–the goal is to learn.