“Fail fast, fail often” is popular business advice nowadays, the idea being that the more mistakes we make the sooner we find success.

But is this good advice or just a way to justify a lot of messing up?

It’s certainly true that much of our work lives seems to involve stumbling down the wrong path before hitting on the right one. Mistakes are a part of being human. Fortunately, mistakes are also great learning experiences.

However, it’s perfectly possible to fail both fast and often without learning a single blessed thing.

This is what happens when we neglect to recognize and acknowledge our mistakes. We may fear that admitting to error makes us look weak. We may succumb to the urge to blame everyone but ourselves. When we do own up to screwing up, we sometimes are unable to identify the true causes behind it. A lot of us just try again, hoping next time will be better.

Want to fix all this? When you make a mistake, admit to it, even if only in your own head. Resist the very natural desire to blame outside circumstances or other people. Take comfort in the fact that setbacks, painful as they are, reveal valuable insights about our strengths, passions and limitations.


Sometimes we find ourselves repeatedly making the same or similar mistakes. Don’t panic. Step back and take a serious, in-depth look at the way you go about your work. Seek to identify the root causes of the problem. Are you trying to do too many things at once, or failing to think through your plans before acting on them? Even ordinary, everyday bad habits (such as tardiness or carelessness) can destroy otherwise intelligent strategies.

Other tips: Seek outside advice. Find out how other people have resolved similar situations. Identify what resources, skills or knowledge you may be lacking and make a plan to acquire them. Don’t forget to consider whether your original goal was reasonable or attainable in the first place. In fact, a mistake can be the perfect opportunity to try something new or to change directions completely.

Finally, strive to shed whatever shame you were raised to associate with failure. After all, not making mistakes is the biggest mistake we can make.