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Fail Forward Review

The reason we decided to be a sponsor was because we see failure as a key element required for innovation…

The event was awesome. There were speakers from health care, neuroscientists talking about the brain, and more. All-in-all, it was a huge success, with lots of like minded people united around the concept of failure to move forward.

I wanted to share what I learned personally, so here goes:

1 – Verbalize failure to clarify learning (time-condensed) — from Ashley Good

The first exercise of the day was to pair up with one other person, generally a stranger, and in three minutes, talk deeply about a significant failure in your life. As we were still only beginners at failure, it was recommended that we use a failure from our professional life. We took turns, one after the next, talking deeply about our failures, what we learned from the failure, and why it was important to us. Then, we were given a second opportunity to tell the same story — this time in 1 min.

To me, the biggest lesson was in the power of verbalizing your failure, and especially your learning. It’s one thing to carry it around inside your head — it’s another to say it out loud. I found a sense of ease come over me as soon as the words left my mouth, and I also felt a deeper sense of clarity about the learnings by saying the words.

Also, a key point here is that the exercise is time-constrained. By having a defined time to verbalize, if forced me to search out and find the most important learnings from the event.

2 – Little “f” vs. big “F” failure — Sean from

In the SoapBox world, we talk a lot about little “i” innovation and big “I” Innovation, but at Fail Forward, Sean from talked about little “f” failure vs. big “F” Failure.

Little “f” failure can be thought of as all the negative test results in the steady stream of little experiments you are running throughout the design process. Whether you are designing a new product or launching a new idea or project within a company, it is critical that you constantly validate your assumptions with the outside world (the market, the end-user, etc.).

The alternative is to postpone running these experiments and risk a big “F” failure. Big “F” Failure is essentially designing or building the complete solution without validating anything along the way. Then, you have this final epic moment where it either works or it doesn’t.

If it works, you are a hero. If not, big “F” Failure, and basically you are done. By differentiating between the two types, we break the assumption that all failure is bad. As we can see here, little “f” is essential learning, while big “F” is, well, bad.

3 – Brain loves failure, mind hates it — Dr. Mandy Wintink from

On a similar note, Dr. Wintink broke down the difference in how we experience failure — both from the perspective of our brains and our minds. Essentially, our brains actually love failure. In short, the experience of failing resembles that of learning and the neurotransmitters that are released give us a positive feeling.

The problem, then, is that our mind hates failure. Our mind tries to attach meaning to the outcomes, and usually that meaning is negative.

4 – Failure post-mortems: why did that seem like a good idea at the time?

Finally, the fourth lesson I learned about failure was the value of doing post-mortems after failures happen. The lesson came from Dr. Brian Goldman.

The part that really resonated with me the most was the tip to really put yourself in the shoes of the person who made the mistake, and think hard about why that choice seemed like a good idea at the time. Thinking about why this choice seemed like the right one at the time can provide valuable insight into how to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

Failing Forward for Innovation

Throughout all the different speakers and great ideas thrown out there, the overarching theme was certainly that we all need to shift our perception of failure from failure as an outcome to failure as part of the process and essential learning.

So looking at it specifically within the context of innovation, a healthy relationship with failure is the foundation on which a culture of innovation is possible.


The Fail Forward team put together an amazing toolkit to help you fail intelligently and you can download it here!


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