BACKGROUND: Phenotype-driven forward genetic experiments are powerful approaches for linking phenotypes to genomic elements but they still involve a laborious positional cloning process. Although sequencing of complete genomes now becomes available, discriminating causal mutations from the enormous amounts of background variation remains a major challenge. METHOD: To improve this, we developed a universal two-step approach, named 'fast forward genetics', which combines traditional bulk segregant techniques with targeted genomic enrichment and next-generation sequencing technology RESULTS: As a proof of principle we successfully applied this approach to two Arabidopsis mutants and identified a novel factor required for stem cell activity. CONCLUSION: We demonstrated that the 'fast forward genetics' procedure efficiently identifies a small number of testable candidate mutations. As the approach is independent of genome size, it can be applied to any model system of interest. Furthermore, we show that experiments can be multiplexed and easily scaled for the identification of multiple individual mutants in a single sequencing run.