Fail Forward Fast

The following is an excerpt from the book, The Way of the Seal: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed, by Mark Divine with Allyson Edelhertz Machate.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
-Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister (1874-1965)

I believe the world is chaotic and destiny favors the prepared. Unfortunately, sometimes chaos just refuses the harness, no matter how well you bulletproof your mission and how committed you are to finding a way.


Moving forward despite chaotic conditions — and sometimes because of them — is inherently risky, and since we don’t shy from risk in the Way of the SEAL, you will inevitably experience failure, probably more often than you succeed, actually. The good news is that, culturally, failure is not as shameful as it once might have been — it’s become almost commonplace for an individual to lose his job, to see her business go belly-up, or to file for bankruptcy (either in business or personally).

In today’s fast-paced world, new technologies change industries overnight. With the business, social, and political landscapes shifting like quicksand, “failing forward fast” is more important now than ever.

When you deliber­ately break something, you must shift your perspective so that you both expect and welcome failure — you will seek it out because that is where the opportunities for personal and professional growth lie hid­den. In fact, you’re getting it out of the way, knowing that only failure will bring the insights and lessons necessary to remake things better.

During one of my early programs, we had a steelworker from Pittsburgh who walked into the ocean for a swimming exercise and sank right to the bottom. He couldn’t swim and didn’t float, but he was too scared to tell me so he just went in and down! We got him out after a moment of panic.

It had made sense to incorporate ocean swimming into the program, based as it was on SEAL training. However, as more nonmilitary professionals sought to train with us, we suspected we would inevitably attract people who couldn’t swim at that level. Instead of knee-jerk reacting to this obvious failure (read: learning opportunity) and scratching the water work, we rethought the process.

We couldn’t take all participants swimming in deep water because of the risk, but we could put them in waist­ deep and have them carry logs or go through “surf torture” (sitting at water’s edge with their arms interlocked). This removed the actual risk of drowning while maintaining the perceived risk and challenge of the cold and the forceful water.

Alden Mills, a SEAL teammate of mine, demonstrated the power of failing forward fast in a big way when he launched his hugely successful Perfect Pushup product. I recall playing with his first product, the Body Rev, as we evaluated it to sell at I couldn’t figure out how to use the darn thing.

The Body Rev used a gyroscopic motion in a device you held in your hands and rotated in a circle in front of your body (hence the name Body Rev) to develop core and upper-body strength. Alden had raised $1.5 million around the concept and produced an infomercial aimed at the women’s fitness market.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t figure it out. The product failed, largely because consumers found it too complicated to use, and because Alden had targeted too small a corner of the fitness market.

Alden burned through all but $25,000 of his money with little to show for it.

This is where his SEAL-taught ability to embrace failure as a teacher came in handy. His timeline was so short, his pockets so shallow, and the naysayers so loud that he put his blinders and earmuffs on and focused on this one problem with such a controlled intensity that he was able to solve it with a home-run hit in a few short months.

Rather than tweaking the failed product for a different market, which might have been a safer, easier half-step, or closing his business entirely and moving on, he decided to invent another, simpler product — the Perfect Pushup. The product took stationary push-up handles and put them on a rotating bevel, allowing the user’s wrists, elbows, and shoulders to rotate during the push-up for a more ergonomically functional movement.

Learning from his mistakes, he relied this time on print ads in a few men’s sports magazines (a market he knew more about, which was also a more proven market for such products than the women’s magazines he’d previously targeted), using his own credit cards to buy the ad space rather than borrowing money for a bigger campaign. He was soon profitable enough to self-fund an infomercial, which garnered the Perfect Pushup nationwide awareness and placement in over 24,000 retail stores in just one year.

Author Bios
A native of Oneida County, New York, Mark Divine served in the U.S. Navy SEALs for 20 years, retiring as a commander, and holds an MBA from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. The founder of SEALFIT,, and U.S. CrossFit, he has started and led six multimillion­ dollar business ventures. Having coached thousands of Navy SEAL and other Special Operations candidates with a success rate near 90 percent, Mark now trains the public in the eight Way of the SEAL principles through his Unbeatable Mind Academy ( The author of 8 Weeks to SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind, he lives in Encinitas, California, with his wife, Sandy, and son, Devon.

Allyson Edelhertz Machate ( is a Phi Beta Kappa member and the founder of Ambitious Enterprises, an award-winning business that offers expert writing and editorial services to business professionals, publishers, agents, and authors. A New York native, she leads a team of content professionals from her home near Baltimore, Maryland.

Copyright © 2013 Mark Divine, author of The Way of the Seal: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed

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