How to Learn What Does Not Work Quickly and Early

At times leaders will expect their peers and subordinates to know what works without ever knowing or experiencing what does not work. This expectation often causes disharmony within an organization and elicits ill will.

There is a direct correlation between success and mistakes. Interestingly, it is those who fail early and often who are able to produce the greatest results as meaningful learning comes from making mistakes that are not irrecoverable. It is not the individuals who sit and wait for the perfect answer to simply materialize out of thin air that are most successful.

Below are some steps to discern what does not work quickly and early, to realize what does work for the greatest effect:

Take risk

Take calculated risk. The greatest risks offers the greatest rewards; however, the devil is in the details. Due diligence and an understanding of core competencies are essential factors to consider when deciding to a take a risk. Not taking any risk is the greatest risk of all and not much learning occurs in isolation.

Fail early

Learn what does not work before it becomes a costly mistake. In other words, fail early. Learn what milestones to look out for that show glimmers of success or failure. There are early warning signs throughout all processes that become salient in retrospect. Learn to find these nuances and discern failure before it becomes the elephant in the room.

Consult the fool

Solicit the advice of someone who knows nothing of what you are trying to accomplish. The fool is the one who has no expertise, but will ask the obvious questions that are often overlooked by the expert with preconceived notions and assumptions. The fool will quickly poke holes in your assertions to expose weaknesses or bolster strengths.

Question everything

Even conventional knowledge was once unconventional. The inquisitive mind is essential to failing early and learning what does not work. Simply taking things at face value will leave many stones unturned and missed opportunities.


Approach things like curious a child

Being an expert serves no purpose in figuring out what does not work. Approach all endeavors with a a childlike curiosity that is not jaded with years of knowledge and the “been there and got the shirt” mentality. Children are the pinnacle of failing early hence is why they develop so quickly in the beginning years of life.

Avoid hubris

Hubris is defined as “excessive pride or self-confidence”. Pride will quickly make an idea that should fail grow legs and drain critical resources from other ventures that are more profitable or worthy of greater resources. Pride is the number one precedent before failure. It is important to remember that nothing is infallible and no one is truly an expert no matter how much experience or credentials are behind one’s name.


Overall, learning what does not work is more important than knowing what does work. For knowing what does not work implies wisdom while stumbling upon was does work is luck and difficult to repeat. Repeatability and true understanding stems fully from failure and a holistic understanding of what is not fruitful. Therefore, learn to know what does not work to understand what does.

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