Have you ever been told that it’s ok to fail? Did it ever feel like it was really ok to fail? Are you ok with other people trying and failing? Or do we look at them and think, they didn’t try hard enough, they didn’t ask the right questions, I would have done x, or …..?
It’s incredibly hard to get anything right on the first try. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get it right the first time, but “practice makes perfect” is something we understand. The path to success almost always requires iterations, with the caveat that you have to learn something from each iteration or you’re just doing mindless repetition.
I’m a huge believer in iterative improvements because I’ve seen it work over and over again. I’m a believer in failing fast because I’ve seen the value of that many times too. Yet I’m still not, deep down, ok with failure. How can that be? I’m a smart guy on good days, why can’t I internalize the goodness of failure better than I do?
More and more I’ve grown to believe that trying to teach the ok-ness of failure is not going to get us where we want to go. I think what we should teach is that all ideas can be made better if you watch and think and learn and that the more you do it, the greater the chances it will be successful, or more successful than the time before. It doesn’t mean the ideas need to be small or that the failures need to be small.
That brings us to A/B testing. Imagine if every time we added a feature or tried to solve a problem we forced ourselves to test two variations of it (or least envision two variations). That forces to us to think about multiple paths to success and it builds in the idea of failure without saying failure – one of them will do better than the other and it builds in the idea of iterations. It should double the velocity of learning in the best case, but it won’t (probably) make a bad idea good and it won’t prevent a good idea from being badly implemented, but whether the core idea succeeds or fails, we get there faster. The goal isn’t speed though, it’s framing ideas so that we’re focused on learning from iterations.