Many innovators adhere to IDEO founder Dave Kelley's philosophy: "Fail faster, succeed sooner." Recently, venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya took issue with Silicon Valley's embrace of this mantra during a talk at Stanford. He argued,
“Fail fast” has become the conventional wisdom of Silicon Valley. And when it comes to consumer businesses and apps, that makes sense, says Palihapitiya. Consumer internet businesses like Facebook are about exploiting psychology, and businesses need to fail fast to keep pace with the shifting tastes and desires of consumers. But that formula doesn’t work for “anything that really matters,” he says. “It is not how you solve diabetes. It is not how you use precision medicine to cure cancer. It is not how you educate broad swaths of the world’s population.”
I strongly disagree with Palihapitiya's take here. He has taken a far too narrow view of what the "fail fast" philosophy means. Of course, a smartphone app is far different than curing cancer. It's ok to fail if you launch a social media app into the market. However, you do not want to put a poorly designed cancer drug out into the market simply to get feedback. The FDA would not allow that anyway. However, that does not mean the "fail fast" philosophy should not be applied in industries such as healthcare, where the stake are very high. You can still embrace the notion that innovation should occur through an iterative process filled with prototyping, experimentation, and testing. Prototypes come in many forms; they do not have to be finished products that could do potential harm to users in the marketplace.