Are you a Fail Forward organization yet? Hari Nallan

Authored by Hari Nallan, Founder & CEO, Think Design

I came across the concept of failing forward a few years back when I understood the several facets of Design Thinking. A decade later today, this concept is well understood across established technology companies and start-ups alike. In fact, ‘Fail Forward’ approach is being discussed in management schools, design schools and innovative organizations alike.

There was a time when organizations committed significant investments in what they believed would succeed. They would spend in infrastructure, product development, distribution and marketing; and would take to their customers, what they believed to be their best creation… and expected it to be successful. 

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In short, organizations were wired for success, not failure. As a result of this, these organizations didn’t have the capability to adjust to unexpected results; and they would struggle to deliver when met with unexpected outcomes. Whereas in the last decade, we have witnessed the rise in lean and agile companies that built things quickly, economically and in a nimble way; resulting in constant iterations of failure, learning and improvement leading to disruption of businesses and ecosystems over time. 

Welcome to the concept of ‘Failing forward’. The disruptors that we see today around us aren’t the ones that aimed at perfect creations and conditions of success, but are the ones who took failure in their stride and constantly learned and improved their propositions to succeed continuously. 

By inculcating the concept of failing forward, organizations can be innovative, agile and disruptive in the long run. Hence, it is of no doubt that organizations of the future have to inculcate failure as a strategic element in their DNA. 

Here are 5 tips to become a Fail forward organization:

Make failure your boardroom topic

Do not shy away from discussing failure in your board room. By making it a habit to ask each other about how they failed and their learnings from it, your key people are going to cosy up to the concept and will begin to accept it as an essential part of organisational practice. Most importantly, avoid the habit of being defensive about your failures and discuss them openly.

Allow iteration

Many a time, those who failed aren’t given a second chance to pursue their mission. This leads to the perception that failure is treated with punishment. Instead of penalizing your people for their failure, accept it as a by-product of innovation and let your people iterate, improve and succeed.


When the bets are high, it is a very good idea to prototype instead of putting a full blown idea into test. Prototyping gives you the chance to try your idea with minimal investments and repercussions. By inculcating the concept of prototyping in your organizational practice, you will be constantly going through the cycles of build, test, iterate and ultimately take failure in your stride as a natural outcome of trying anything new.

Don’t stop at failure, learn from it and succeed.

While it is important to fail, it is equally important not to stop at failure, but rather learn from it and apply your learnings and succeed. Whether you are pursuing a new concept, business idea or a feature in your product/ service, what is really valuable is the learning you pass on to your company and your people by pursuing your creation beyond its initial failure into something that is ultimately successful. Nothing is more valuable to your organization than success that comes from the learnings from failure!

Avoid creative indulgence.

As creators of products and businesses, we tend to fall into this trap too easily: We have so many concepts and ideas that we indulge in exploring them all, leading to half-baked pursuits and incomplete outcomes. It is important to be disciplined in pursuing that one idea that you really believe in and iterating on it till it reaches a stage that can be called success, instead of indulging in multiple creative pursuits that never see the light of the day!

By making ‘Fail Forward’ as our organizational goal, we could drastically change the way things are conceptualized, built and delivered. Failing forward makes organizations innovative and ultimately successful… but never forget this: It all starts with failure! 

About the Author

Hari Nallan is Founder and CEO of Think Design, which is part of the Havas Group. Hari is a Designer, Speaker and Educator, and leads Think Design,  a UX Strategy Firm with 15 years of presence, several design awards to its credit and located in 5 Studios across 2 Continents. Since 2004, Think Design has been powering mission critical initiatives of some of the world’s most  renown organizations and brands, transforming businesses across industries and millions of users through its methods.


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