Fail Fast

At a recent leadership program in Lucern Switzerland, we were doing a common team building exercise.  One, in fact, that has been studied very in depth.  I'm sure you've seen it or done it yourself.  You're given a number of straws and tape and told to build a structure as high as you can that supports an egg.  You, of course, have one goal in mind. Outperform the other teams for bragging rights.  At this same time you make two huge mistakes.  You assume the other teams' structure will be higher than yours so you reach for the stars in your efforts.  Second, you believe you've worked with enough teams over the years to be an effective contributor, both leading and compromising where needed.

We learned two very important lessons that day. First, you often overestimate your competition.  I know.  It sounds counter-intuitive. Never underestimate your competition. This causes you to over engineer and complicates your approach to be un-executable. Second, as you over engineer, you become over-invested and are afraid to call it quits and let a bad idea go. Or, tell others to let their idea go.  Instead you try to modify a poor idea and avoid conflict.

What we also learned that day, is in a study on this particular exercise which has been tested with executives at every level, line level workers, executive assistants, and even students of all ages, the group that consistently achieved the best results, were elementary school kids.  What the students did to be successful is to "Fail Fast."  They did not get attached to ideas and assumptions.  They built fast, failed fast, learned and built again in a new way.

So why do we become so invested in our initiatives?  Especially the bad ones?  The answer is not complex. It's ego.  We don't need a dissertation on the problems ego causes.  Just ask the question to the stakeholders of a floundering  project.  Why is the project failing and why are we holding on to it? Then ask "why" again to whatever they say.  And, ask one final "why" to that answer.  I bet they can't answer why three times.  If they can't provide answers that gets to a substantiated reason that is both solving a problem, providing real value and achieving organizational goals, let it go.