Iteration: How We MythBust Failure

In Adam Savage’s book, Every Tool’s a Hammer, he takes issue with “failure” as a buzzword. He thinks celebrating failure makes for a catchy concept, but we’d be much better off focusing on what we’re really talking about: iteration.


Savage likens failure to “getting drunk and not showing up to your kid’s graduation.” Iteration is different. Iteration is a stepwise process where we try something, and if it doesn’t work we make adjustments and try again. Iteration includes failure, but failure doesn’t include iteration. The only failures we want to celebrate are the kinds we learn from.


Consider our service models, workflows, investment processes, or just about anything else in our lives. At the extremes are “move fast and break things” and “move slowly and break nothing.” We fail at either end by failing to learn. The risks here are that the outside world will eventually break us. We’ll fail fast one too many times, or by our complete failure aversion (by never breaking anything ourselves), we’ll fail to make the necessary changes required to survive.


Iteration exists in the middle. It includes checking in on everything we do, getting feedback from everyone involved – coworkers and clients – and then making regular updates. Failures don’t have to be colossal, and maybe that’s the problem with the word. Failures can be as slight as minor inefficiencies. When we turn hiccups into hmm’s, we’re on the path to progress.


If there’s one thing Savage is a master of, it’s figuring out how to evolve. In real time it won’t always be comfortable, pretty, or entertaining, but to fail without iteration is to turn our back on our own progress. Iteration – it’s how we mythbust failure.

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