One of the reasons for the wild success of Silicon Valley companies is their willingness to try new things, to provide their employees with time and support to experiment. But according to Eric Barker, another reason is their belief in failing fast and failing cheap. Basically, when an experiment fails, they don’t spend a lot of time wringing their hands or trying to convince themselves they can make it work. They don’t throw good money after bad. They cut the cord, take what they’ve learned, and put resources into another project.
I’ve heard this story about Silicon Valley many times, and every time it’s told, people are all enthused and say things like they wished their own companies were more like Silicon Valley. But like many things, the enthusiasm is more theoretical than practical. In reality, we become attached to things pretty quickly.
It’s not just giant corporations or bureaucracies that have trouble letting things go. It can happen to any of us. I know students who have failed tests due to ineffective study habits. So what do they do? Double down on those same ineffective study habits. And then they’re surprised when the results don’t improve.
But we all do it. I once started a graduate degree in education. I knew immediately that the program wasn’t for me. Still, I didn’t want to be known as a quitter. I took another three classes before I finally acknowledged that I had no interest in that particular program. I started over in an English master’s program, and I was much happier.
No one wants to be a failure. But a lot depends on how you define it. Quitting something can be a failure. But failure can also be holding onto something when you should have moved on long ago.