Lean methodology places failure close to the center of its model. The entrepreneur is supposed to fail many times and as fast as possible in order to reduce waste.

This idea has been repeatedly misunderstood. Some people take it as an explicit command to fail in their ventures. Others take it as a justification for past failures. Even more believe that future success will not happen unless they fail many times. All of them are very far from the truth.

Lean practitioners do not advocate failures. Quite the opposite. They believe that major failures can be avoided, if the entrepreneur embraces smaller ones.

For example, if the CEO admits that there is no adequate traction in the first stages of the business, s/he may attempt to change the channel from where the customers are coming. The admittance of smaller failures, before the problem becomes exacerbated, is essential for the avoidance of spectacular failures later.

Also, there should be an element of introspection in all of our past ventures. How many of them were successful? How many of them remained average? And most importantly, how many of them went bust? Especially the latter ones are an excellent source of valuable business lessons. An in-depth analysis of the individual characteristics of each failed attempt, will deter the entrepreneur from future mistakes.

This type of introspection and self-analysis may go against the very essence of the entrepreneurial personality. Entrepreneurs tend to be persistent (stubborn, in reality), over-confident (to the point of complete and utter denial), risk-takers (as if they have all the luck in the world), loners (taking advice only sparingly).

In all fairness, the above characteristics are the ones that make them extremely successful in what they do. After all, they are leaders, not followers. On the other hand, if they lose perspective and they accentuate these characteristics beyond the breaking point, they may lose everything! A fine balance is difficult to attain but essential for success.

So, I would like to include here a few bits of wisdom you should take home:

  1. Remain vigilant about the possibility of small failures in your business model.

  2. Do not hesitate to change aspects of your plan, if these do not seem to work.

  3. Put clear (and, if possible, numeric) targets that need to be achieved. This way you will know whether you failed or not.

  4. Listen to the people who surround you. You may not follow their advice but there is no harm in keeping your ears open.

  5. Continue taking educated risks but without putting your business in danger.

I hope this will be of some help.

Image: Train Wreck at Montparnasse, 1985. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895_FAIL.jpg