Many of the leaders we have interviewed for Molecule to Market spoke about leaning in and failing forwards to succeed.
“Never let success get to your head; never let failure get to your heart.” – Anonymous.
With failing forwards becoming a running theme amongst guests, and the failing fast mentality being so closely aligned to life sciences and pharma – particularly when it comes to early stage drug development. The approach is fast becoming a key element within agile methodologies, and can help to save time and money, particularly during early phase developments, so we decided to explore the concept as a leadership technique.
Read a summary of our findings below…
Remove the stigma around failing
Failing forward and/or failing fast is a philosophy that values extensive testing and incremental development to determine whether an idea has value.
Failing fast seeks to remove the stigma from “failure” by emphasising the knowledge gained from a failed attempt and focussing on increasing the probability of an eventual success.
Use failure purposefully
To fail forward means to purposefully and deliberately use failure to find success. To fail forward, is to DO or TRY something new, or to EXPLORE a new approach/process – something you or your team want to do but are afraid to do as you don’t know where the path will lead.
Fail early, fail often, fail forward
Failure helps us to recognise the areas where we need to evolve and improve. Failing early, failing often, and failing forward is about leveraging failure and making realistic assessments of the risks involved to avoid mistakes.
If it is possible to learn from failure then the sooner the failure occurs, the sooner the learning can start – this is vital during early phase drug development and where investment is on a large scale. Failing fast enables you to get quick, quality feedback about what works and what does not, which you can then utilise to adjust your project/ development, team or plans accordingly.
Failure doesn’t stem from mistakes
A mistake is an incorrect, unwise, or unfortunate act or decision. A mistake can be caused by bad judgment, a lack of information, or a lack of attention to detail. While a mistake can lead to failure they don’t have to end in failure. Conversely, a failure doesn’t always have to stem from a mistake. Failure is an attempt at trying something new and the value comes from the learning and knowledge that is exchanged because of the failure.
Cultivate a freedom to fail culture
Failing fast requires a culture where your team has the freedom to fail but where they can learn something from each failure that helps them to succeed faster the next time.
Change the narrative around failure
Failure followed by criticism or punishment won’t encourage boundary pushing or bravery, it’ll breed hesitation. Growth insights and constructive feedback will lead to quicker solutions and a braver, more innovative team.
3 types of failure
There are three main types of failure:
- Preventable failures
- Unavoidable failures
- Intelligent failures
To fail forwards you should work to eradicate preventable failures, minimise unavoidable failures and focus on intelligent failures that you can learn from.
So, what have we learned about mastering the art of failing forwards?
Failing forwards can help break the fall and failing is an essential part of winning.
A high-performing individual or team will observe failures throughout their career but what makes leaders successful is the ability to learn from these experiences and to share them with others.
Failed processes and projects provide key insights into “what went well” and “how to make things better”.
If we’re not failing, we’re probably not growing.
There’s plenty of learnings the life science and outsourcing sector can takeaway from failing forwards and failing fast. We believe the key principles are being open in terms of culture and your willingness to try, to fail fast and to learn from mistakes and to positively change the language associated with failure alongside moving on quickly. This approach is likely to support innovation and improve early phase projects.
Listen back to past podcast episodes to hear our guests thoughts on failing forwards here.