THE LEAN 1-2-3 NEWSLETTER

Remove failing from your vocabulary.

Hi there -

Here is this week’s “1 principle, 2 strategies, and 3 actionable tactics” for running lean…

1 Universal Principle

“Remove failing from your vocabulary.”
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The “fail fast” meme is often cited as a necessary precondition for achieving breakthrough innovation.

But I’ve found that the taboo of failure runs so deep (even in Silicon Valley) that “failing fast” is insufficient to get people to accept failure as a prerequisite to achieving a breakthrough.

This is why I recommend completely removing the word “failing” from your vocabulary.

2 Underlying Strategies at Play

I. You become what you practice.

Failing isn’t the goal of a startup. And the danger with practicing failing is that you become good at failing, which takes you further away from your true goal, succeeding.

The challenge, of course, is that practicing succeeding in a startup isn’t so easy. The key is to focus on practicing the step before succeeding, learning.

Speed of learning, not failing, is the new unfair advantage.

II. Chasing why, not failing, is how you learn.

The hockey-stick trajectory of every successful startup starts the same way: With an extended flat portion at the beginning.

This is not because the founders were lazy and not working hard, but before they could build a business model that worked, they had to go through lots of stuff that didn’t.

While this looks like a lot of failing from the outside, it only tells a part of the story.

Most founders rush to course-correct at the first sight of failure, using labels like “pivot” or “experiment” to justify their actions. But, a pivot not grounded in learning is simply a disguised “see what sticks” strategy. Sure, this can sometimes lead to a lucky break. But more often, it results in aimless wandering.

What separates successful founders isn’t throwing a bunch of spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks, but asking why when they confront an unexpected outcome.

The key to breakthrough isn’t running away from failure but digging in your heels and asking why.

3 Actionable Tactics

I. Start with a model

You can’t test a vague idea.

Even scientists start with a model that attempts to describe the “thing” they are trying to study. They use this model to make predictions which they then attempt to verify through experiments.

“If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong.”
- Richard Feynman

This is the essence of the Scientific Method, and entrepreneurship is no different.

Start by describing your key beliefs on a Lean Canvas that would need to be true for your idea to work.

II. Prioritize what’s riskiest

Next, prioritize what’s riskiest and not easiest in your business model.

As in the game of Jenga, your goal is to remove the weakest blocks early so you can play the game longer.

The goal of a startup is to find a repeatable and scalable business model before running out of resources.

III. Reframe failing

With your model created and risks prioritized, you then attempt to make a prediction, which you test with a small and fast timeboxed experiment:

“If I send these (types of customers) an (offer) with this (unique value proposition), they will (take this action).”

If your experiment works, stack the experiment with the next call to action (follow-on experiment) until it doesn’t.

Remember that most first models won’t be perfect; your goal is to find where they break.

And therein lies the key step:

Don’t sugarcoat or post-rationalize the outcome or prematurely pivot your idea. If the outcome doesn’t match your expected outcome, chase why.

This might require data analysis, running more discovery experiments, or simply asking your customers.

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

When you chase unexpected outcomes and do this regularly (in 2-week sprints), you replace big-bang failures with many little evidence-based course corrections.

You're no longer failing fast but learning fast.

That is the key to achieving breakthrough.

That's all for today. See you next week.

Ash

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P.S. The Art of the Scientist.

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