Entrepreneurs have a saying they love to repeat: "Fail fast."

The idea of failing fast goes like this. You're going to fail at some point. You might as well get it over with, and then get on with something that won't fail.

Failure is seen as a building block, a step in the right direction.

On the whole, I agree with that principle. If you're going to fail, and chances are pretty high that you will, then do it quickly.

But it's not enough to just fail fast; it's important to fail smart.

Smart failure is the ability to learn from your experience, and come away stronger, wiser, and ready to succeed.

Here's how to fail smart.

Understand why the business failed.

The best thing that you can do after a failure is to sit down and think "Okay, why did this business fail?"

There are millions of possible reasons for failure, so you may end up with a really long list of reasons. Try to narrow it down to just four or five factors (or combination of factors) that led to the business's demise.

Once you begin to understand why the business failed, you will know the things you should avoid next time.

Understand what didn't fail.

When a business idea goes down in flames, we tend to dismiss the entire thing as a failure. The truth is, not everything in that business was a failure.

Surely there were some things that went right. Identify the things that worked, and use those to your advantage for your next business venture.

Sort through the rubble of the erstwhile business, and salvage the good stuff--a great fundraising email, a killer social media strategy, the perfect landing page design.

Failure doesn't mean the end of everything.

Bring others through the failure, and into your next success.

In this article, I've intentionally referred to the business failing, not you failing.

People aren't failures. We may engineer failures; we may cause things to fail; but we ourselves are not the failure.

The same holds true for the people in your organization. They aren't failures simply because the business failed.

As you learn from your experience, help your team members learn, too. They will come out on the other side of a failed business with a set of experiences, knowledge, and best practices.

Don't dismiss your team, as if they were the cause of failure. Let them learn with you, and help you succeed on the next attempt.

Fail with the ultimate objective in mind.

Failure is a means to an end.

Obviously, failure is not that end. So what is the goal of a failure? Where are you ultimately going?

You're headed for success. The pursuit of success should be foremost in our thinking when we slog through failure.

Never fail to learn.

Every experience, no matter how bitter or demoralizing, is a learning opportunity.

It doesn't matter what industry you're in, or what position you have in your organization. You can always learn.

Along the way to failure, you're learning something. Maybe you're understanding who your customers are. Maybe you're figuring out split testing. Maybe you're discovering the power of social media. Maybe you're just getting the hang of this entrepreneur thing.

The key point is this: You are learning. And no matter what fails (or how bad it fails), you've always got those lessons tucked away.

When we face failure with a let's-just-get-this-over-with mentality, we do ourselves a disservice. We're trying to shake off the failure, without realizing that our failure is a stepping stone to success.

What is your smart fail story?

Published on: Jan 1, 2015