Who knew there was an “intelligent way of failing”? According to Columbia Business School Professor Rita McGrath, there is indeed—and put into practice it can actually make organizations stronger. McGrath, a leading expert on strategy and disruption, outlined four key principles to intelligent failure in a recent video on the CBS website. In short, she offers this advice: “Stop worrying about the rate of failure—fail fast, fail cheap, move on.”
According to McGrath, the four keys to failing intelligently begin with knowing what success should look like. “You would be amazed at the number of companies I work with who say, ‘Well, we’re not quite sure what success would look like, but we think there’s sort of a great idea over here.’ And they get way down a track without ever having really thought about it.”
Principle Number Two: Focus more on learning and less on being right. “There’s a lot of time wasted in organizations by people saying, “Well, I’m right, you’re wrong.” The point is you don’t know, and being right has no place in a context like that,” she says.
The third key principle to intelligent failing is to limit the variables. “If I am a book publisher and I decide I want to go into genetic engineering, there are just too many variables—I’m not going to be able to make any sense out of what I’m seeing,” she says.
Finally, learn from the military’s “After Action Review.” In essence, codify what you intended to have happen, what happened, why what happened happen, and what you learned—and then share it. “The principle here is have some way of talking about intelligent failures that allows you to go after them in a less fearful way than if we go at it with a typical corporate mindset,” McGrath says.
McGrath, rated one of the 25 smartest women to follow on Twitter by Fast Company, writes a regular column for Inc Magazine called “The Entrepreneurial Strategist,” blogs regularly at HBR.org and is one of the Wall Street Journal’s experts. In 2013, she published a best-selling book entitled, The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business.