Available Now

Fail Better

By Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn


Failure will happen. It’s what you do with it that counts. Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner with Fail Better.

Chart a better path to failure and away from it. The key to failing better: a method for making the most of every project.

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Fail Better Book Overview

If you aim to innovate, failure is a given. It's what you do with it that counts. Fail Better shows you how to design mistakes at a scale, scope, and visibility that drive better outcomes, improve individual and team capacity, and build organization-wide learning.

Part I

The Antidote to Failure

Chapter 1

You can't escape failure. A systems-based examination of failure's roots helps to establish why. Smart mistakes bring benefits.

Chapter 2

Enabling productive failures calls for a systematic approach. We introduce the fail better method here: launch, iterate and embed.

Chapter 3

Look here for very practical guidance on how to apply book's ideas to your work to start implementing the Fail Better method right away.


Part II

Fail Better: Step-by-Step

Chapter 4

Lay the groundwork for a new project to enable effective learning and productive surprise.

Chapter 5

Explore the three essential elements of iteration: planning, taking action while capturing data, and examining results to decide the next action step. Small steps can yield big results.

Chapter 6

Embed what's been learned, and build on it-for yourself, the team, the organization, and beyond.


Part III

Moving From Ideas to Practice

Chapter 7

Embrace the Fail Better mindset, a way of approaching challenges that you'll draw from to refine your own personal principles and approaches.

Chapter 8

Delve into the design-for-learning principles behind the Fail Better method to help you understand and improvise from the foundation on which the approach is built.

Chapter 9

See Fail Better principles in action through BRAC, an organization that over the course of four decades has achieved global change with limited resources.

Chapter 10

Examine how the Fail Better approach could help make the world a better place through an example from the present and an inspiration from the past.


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Could any project, anywhere, accomplish even more? We think so. Your next effort could home in on the right deliverables while uncovering new insights, building new capabilities, and enabling useful learning. Start with your next project, and you could help change the world.

“Fail Better is a brilliant antidote to most management thinking. You are going to fail. The question is: Can you fail better, learn from your mistakes, and get closer to where you need to be? If you’re committed to improving health care, or passionate about the economic development in poorer countries—or if you’ve ever tried anything, really—this is a must-read.”

Simon Johnson
Coauthor, 13 Bankers and White House Burning

Meet the Authors

Anjali Sastry

As senior lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management and lecturer in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Anjali Sastry’s teaching includes organizational behavior, system dynamics, and global health delivery.

She mined her experience with innovation and improvement projects on the front lines of healthcare delivery in Africa and Asia to develop Fail Better. She is a Member of the Board of Management Sciences for Health, advises surgical charity WonderWork, and works with both the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation at the University of Cape Town and MIT’s Tata Center for Technology and Design.

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Kara Penn

Kara Penn is owner and principal consultant at Mission Spark, a bespoke management consulting firm. She works on the front lines of practical management to implement innovative strategy solutions in complex, often resource-constrained settings.

She has led award-winning community collaboratives; designed, managed and evaluated multi-year social change initiatives; and guided --as a trusted, results-driven partner-- more than 75 government, corporate, nonprofit, philanthropic and community-based organizations on mission-critical work. Several prestigious fellowship programs, including Coro, Watson and Forte, have recognized her leadership and community contributions. Kara earned her MPP from University of Chicago and her MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.

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