Fail Fast and Move On

By Paul Yung

Recently I was asked, what was the turning point for me.

Our company has grown multiple folds since I acquired the company a few years ago and one of my good friends was curious, What was my a-ha moment?

What was the critical decision that we made years ago that turned the company around. Here’s the thing, as disappointing and boring as it sounds, there was no real a-ha moment.

Much as I would love to have shared an inspirational something that came to me one day like in a Disney or Marvel movie, reality is much more mundane.

There was not one a-ha moment, but hundred moments of a-ha moments.

As much as we are hard wired to avoid failure, the best learning experiences came from making mistakes, having the maturity to self-reflect, tending my bruised ego and having the courage to try again and move forward.

That’s the beauty of learning experiences. James Dyson, the famous British inventor who founded Dyson said in his book that experiences don’t teach us what to do next, rather it teaches us what not to do next. He famously made 5,127 prototypes for his bagless vacuum cleaner and later transferred that technology into making the hairdryer.

I took inspiration from Sir James Dyson the first time we did an online training in PM International, we only knew how to send out links and start the meeting. I couldn’t figure out how to turn on my camera and unmute my mic for the first embarrassing few minutes. I had no idea how to share my screen or put music on (I didn’t know you could). I felt terrible after that first training, feeling I’ve let myself down, let my team down and the 500 people who tuned in to what must have been among the worst trainings in the history of trainings!

At the debrief right after, my team was understandably upset, so instead of rubbing salt in, I laughed it off and said, “Well, they won’t be forgetting that one”. We came up with ideas on the spot for the next training, which was on the next day, and brainstormed on how we would structure the meeting better and what transitions we would use.

The next day, we got better. We debriefed, brainstormed, got better, and continued coming up with more innovative and informative trainings. Today our trainings have live translations to 3 languages, slides, testimonials and wonderful videos and transitions; and since that first meeting, we have conducted more than 600 meetings to 150,000 participants from around 30 countries (who’s counting anyway?)

The point is, don’t beat yourself up when we make mistakes. If you’re not making enough mistakes, it simply means you’re not growing and trying new things. Everyone makes mistakes, so a neat psychological hack to do is reframe the mistakes or failures as learning experiences. Even if it was a monumental failure like winding up a business, when you start again, you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience. Lighten up, laugh at your learning experiences, debrief, brainstorm, and move on.

That last part was key, moving on. This is much tougher than it sounds. We are hard wired to move away from embarrassing experiences. It takes courage and resilience to face our fears head on to keep getting better at something we are not good at. I was reminded of this whenever I spend quality time with my daughter, Adelia. To her, everything is new, and every toy, hobby and stimuli is fascinating. When we first took her for swimming classes, she was terrified and obviously had no idea what she was doing. She swallowed water and I was doubtful if she wanted to attend swimming class again.

Surprisingly, she kept asking me to bring her back week after week, and slowly but surely, she got braver and better. She has no idea what the concept of failure is! Whether it’s her naivety, youthful exuberance, or just plain old curious nature, she continues to inspire me to face down my fears, put my ego aside and have the courage to keep going.

I wish all of you a wonderful October!