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Fail Fast. F*&k That!

How often do you hear platitudes about failing fast, failing forward, celebrating failure, embracing failure, feeling free to fail?

Well I’m here to say—f*&k that.

I’m here to say failing is not good, whether it’s done fast, forward, or by high fiving each other in an end of year celebration.

If you are a Chief Innovation Officer you know the truth: People don’t like failure. Failing is scary. Failing hurts. Failing is something to be avoided.


Because failure is what happens when you try, things don’t turn out as you expected, and don’t learn from it.

When we appropriate cool sounding glib alliterations, they cover up and excuse failure—they invite ignorance, laziness, incuriosity, and poor performance. Who wants to celebrate that?

So here’s what I invite you to do instead: Hypothesize, explore, experiment, invite the unexpected, observe, be surprised, learn fast, change your hypothesis. 

And do it all again.
And again.
And again.

That’s not failing.
That’s learning.  

Failing and learning are not the same thing, they are antithetical. They shouldn’t be clumsily exchanged with one another.

Buckminster Fuller said: “There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”

Too often in business, when things don’t turn out as expected, it is labeled a failure. The brakes are put on. Someone gets a black mark. And attention and resources are shifted elsewhere.

That’s what real failure looks like.

A failure to recognize the unexpected as a promising window into a breakthrough.

A failure to stop and say, “Wow, I never imagined that would happen! What did we learn? And how does it change what we should do?”

F*&k failure. It should be  feared and avoided at all costs.

So, if there’s a need for a pithy platitude, here’s one I just made up: “Learn without fail.”

Or here’s another: “Fail to learn or learn to fail.”

At Solve Next we’ve developed six Think Wrong Practices and over 150 Think Wrong Drills that we use to help organizations create a Culture of Learning not a Festival of Failure.


If you want to learn how to do this yourself, we have a handbook that will help you do just that.

“The founders of Solve Next take readers on a wonderful first hand journey of disruptive innovation. Think Wrong is as inviting as a cookbook by Jamie Oliver and as instructive as a business book by Clayton Christensen. The authors show us how to unlock human ingenuity to build and grow clever, practical, original, and viable solutions to our biggest challenges and most exciting opportunities.”

Rita Gunther McGrath
Professor at Columbia School of Business, Best-selling author of The End of Competitive Advantage

And if you’re already in love with the prospect of thinking wrong you can learn about our cloud based problem solving system and in-person service here.

“Branson can’t afford his pilots to fail again or fail better or fail forward or, frankly, fail at all. Ever. Pretending to embrace failure when you don’t is disingenuous and potentially dangerous.”

Rob Ashgar pulls back the curtain on Silicon Valley’s Fail Fast lie in this Forbes article from July 2014. “Why Silicon Valley’s ‘Fail Fast’ Mantra is Just Hype”


The Creative Economy is a Sham.


The Creative Economy is a Sham.

Back in April I was invited to testify at the Joint Committee Hearing on California’s Creative Economy chaired by Senator Ben Allen. Senator Allen has been working hard to increase funding by the State of California for the Arts and Art Education. I’m embarrassed to say, we California currently ranks 50th among all states.

The centerpiece of the hearing was the 2014 Otis Report on the Creative Economy. It contains some pretty impressive numbers:

The total Gross State Product for California is $2.2 trillion.The total Creative Industry contribution to that number is $249 billion—or 8.1%.And that number is even more impressive when you consider Farming, Fishing, and Timber contribute just 2% to California’s GSP.The Creative Industry accounted for 9.6% of all jobs in California in 2014.

What struck me when reading the Otis Report was how profoundly the government categorization of what is and is not a creative job affects the calculus of how much the Creative Industry contributes to our economy. And just how false the government’s creativity distinctions are.

Forget the job numbers on the chart below and check out the legend. That’s where the Big Creative Job Lie appears.

Sure, those jobs require creativity, special skills, expertise, and talent.

But what job doesn’t?

What challenge confronting an individual, organization, community, society, or species does not demand creativity, special skills, expertise, and talent?

And where are the many creative roles that drive innovation across Technology, Health Care, Energy, Finance, Government, Defense, or many other industries not represented in that legend?

Because, when you get right down to it the Creative Industry is a false ghetto and the Creative Economy is sham.

A ghetto because the definition of the Creative Industry draws an artificial boundary around a subset of jobs, labeling them creative, and by inference, all other jobs not.

A sham because the narrow definition of what constitutes a creative occupation results in a massive understatement of the true size of the Creative Economy.

Both contribute to how little we invest in both. The “Creatives” become the others. And the true scope of the contribution of creativity to the rest of our industries is made invisible.

Which brings us back to my hearing testimony.

I was one of the “Creatives” invited to share our stories. Mine pivots on the realization that we are all born ingenious—and that Think Wrong Practices are the secret to unlocking the creativity of those who do not see themselves as, or who have been told they are not, capable of it.

It is my belief, proven again and again through experience, that the solutions we imagine with those “Non-creatives” are always better than what we “Creatives” might dream up on our own.

Which seem like a pretty good case for investing more in that. 


The Toxic MBA

Think wrong about toxic MBAs

The problem-solving orthodoxies they teach you in business school kill ingenuity. Greg Galle explains why at TEDxGrandRapids.