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Defining Terms: Failing Quickly

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

Author’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series of posts focusing on common concepts and terms that I use when I write, speak or teach.

Entrepreneurs and engineers have a concept: failing quickly. The principal is to move quickly through ideas, like prototypes, or market research ideas, looking to weed out the unsuccessful ones as quickly as possible. This is looked upon as a way of being efficient and ultimately successful — by not spending too many resources on something that will turn out to be a waste, and by being able to consider many possible ideas.

“Failing Quickly” has some interesting applications in parenting puggles as well. First, since so many of us struggle with perfectionism, it builds in the idea of failure as a natural part of the process, and gives us lots of practice failing. Second, instead of getting wrapped up in how a certain idea or parenting tool didn’t work, we simply check that one off and move on down the list. It’s amazing how frequently we can get stuck trying to make a thing work, even when our rational mind knows that doing the same thing expecting a different result is crazy.

Prohibition Disposal with quote

I think part of the reason we puggle parents can get caught in the trap of continuing with an unsuccessful strategy is that we can become very attached to ideas, and philosophies. I’ve seen this play out with various families I’ve worked with who really love a particular approach to parenting, for example NVC (non-violent communication). They take classes, learn about the methods, and are very committed to not wielding their power in their relationship with their children. Which is great, if the child got the memo, but NVC doesn’t always work, especially with QuASIE kids. Instead of trying to shoehorn the family into the approach, why not check that one off as a failure and move on.

A third good reason to practice failing quickly is that it loosens the attachment we may have to a single perfect approach to raising our puggle. I can’t count the number of times a parent in my office has wistfully said “can you just point me at the right parenting book for my family, and I’ll take it from there?” If we know we have a laundry list of things to try, we then can feel confident that as long as we keep failing quickly, will will hit upon something that works better than what we have now.

Finally, there is always this reframe: There is no success or failure, there is only data. And failing quickly just gets us data quickly, all the better to position us to find the successful strategy sooner.

So go on out there today, and and practice failing. In the words of leadership development expert Skip Prichard: It’s a rare person and a rare culture where you can shout, “Yes! I just figured out that this is doomed! Awesome!”

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