The new knowledge work – Fail Fast, Fail Early applies to all

Many have heard of the Silicon Valley Mantra: Fail fast, fail early. But many put the mantra in the drawer of keywords for the innovation or marketing department. We must all fail sooner and faster. Why? And how? – I would like to elaborate on that in this article.

Quickly test, reject and develop new ideas. Many combine this with typical innovation work. Early failure is therefore quickly allowed there. But when I look into the working culture outside innovation, we are still a long way from promoting early failure. There are three observations which I make again and again and which I like to go into in more detail below:

Observation 1: Detail obsession

Who doesn’t know this: We work on PowerPoint presentations, work reports and the like and we are constantly adjusting details (colour, layout etc.) before there is agreement on the content. I see a central reason for this false perfectionism in the initial phase in our work culture. Making mistakes still seems frowned upon. We want to be (too) perfect. We don’t want to offer the reader of our work a target. After all, it is much easier for the viewer of our work to criticize comma errors or unattractive layouts than to question complex ideas in principle.

What we often do in knowledge work is the equivalent, as if the final design of the product has not yet been determined in production, but dozens of machine hours have already been wasted on mass production.

What helps: On the one hand, we as producers of such content have to learn to pay attention to details only at the end and to quickly sketch rough ideas before. We should then iteratively mirror these ideas with stakeholders and develop them further. As readers of such content, we must refrain from paying attention to details in the first few loops. If someone has presented us with a great idea and built a prototype for it via PowerPoint, then we must not pick on the details that are more noticeable to us. We have to make an effort and provide valuable feedback on the content.

Observation 2: Meetings instead of working

I have also noticed that, time and again, meetings are held over months for the implementation of a project which no one feels responsible between. Or no one has enough time. However, as knowledge workers we are not paid to attend meetings. We get paid for results. Sessions can be an element to achieve these. But often the same discussions are held again and again or discussions are not put into practice.

What we often do in offices is the equivalent, like when in production the workers go from machine to machine all day long and discuss the characteristics of production machines. In the end, the whole group knows a lot about the production process and all its aspects, but nothing was produced.

What helps: The remedy for this productivity problem is apparently simple: focus. We need to work more sequentially and do fewer things at the same time. We are not more productive if we have five projects at the same time, but we cannot implement any. It is better to lock one first and then start the next one. This also requires that, for new tasks, we check whether there is capacity to take on this new task. If this is not the case, a task must be cancelled in return. A great method for this focussing is the design sprint, which I have already mentioned elsewhere.
Observation 3: Isolated work

We work alone on a problem, because we think we are best suited for it. Other employees seem to be more of a hindrance and don’t know any better anyway. Especially those from other departments. Besides the fact that these statements apply to the fewest tasks and complex problems can be solved much better in a heterogeneous group, there is another productivity trap here: organizations are not individual based companies. For something to be implemented, others must be convinced of a solution. This means that in reality we rarely look for the best solution, we usually look for a solution that is supported by those who have to bear it.

What we often do in offices is the equivalent of crafting a perfect part in production, which, however, cannot be further processed in later production steps.

What helps: Here too the solution sounds simple and yet we do it far too rarely – perhaps also because of observation 1: We have to talk to the people concerned, involve them in the elaboration. And not only when the solution is ready and only the confirmation of what has been worked out is desired. From the very beginning and in repetitive cycles, we can benefit from reflecting and developing our work with other employees. This not only improves the result, but also helps with the implementation, because the solution was developed by several people who are responsible for it.


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