Among Six Types Of Failure, Only A Few Help You Innovate
“Fail early and fail often. I use that phrase over and over again in teaching the design process. Borrowed from the world of computer programming, it expresses the urgency of getting iterations out into the world early in the process so that they can be tested, debugged, redesigned, and refined. The sooner in the process one does it, the more likely one can bake meaningful adjustments into the final product. To me, this is a golden rule of design.
… in order to better distinguish these conflicting kinds of failure, we need a failure spectrum — from devastating to productive — that allows us to differentiate among these different modalities. And like the Eskimo’s many words for snow, each type of failure conveys slightly different qualities and characteristics, helping to shed light on what exactly we mean when we say something fails.
This is the really dark one. It marks you and you may not ever fully recover from it. People lose their lives, jobs, respect, or livelihoods. Examples: British Petroleum’s Gulf oil spill; mortgage-backed securities.
It cuts — deeply — but it doesn’t permanently cripple your identity or enterprise. Examples: Apple iPhone 4’s antenna; Windows Vista.
Going out in a botched but beautiful blaze of glory — catastrophic but exhilarating. Example: Jamaican bobsled team.
Everyday instances of screwing up that are not too difficult to recover from. The apology was invented for this category. Examples: oversleeping and missing a meeting at work; forgetting to pick up your kids from school; overcooking the tuna.
Small failures that lead to incremental but meaningful improvements over time. Examples: Linux operating system; evolution.
Failure as an essential part of a process that allows you to see what it is you really need to do more clearly because of the shortcomings. Example: the prototype — only by creating imperfect early versions of it can you learn what’s necessary to refine it.”