I think it’s uncontroversial to say that our culture looks down on failure. Failure is to be avoided. Failure elicits shame and generates negative headlines. On the other hand, success is triumphantly celebrated by traditional news and social media alike, in some cases, to our psychological detriment.
I’m certainly not opposed to success; I just believe that failure is getting an unwarranted bad rap. In my opinion, failure should be the real goal of an endeavor – with the caveat that the method of failure is of critical importance as well. More on that later.
Failure deserves to be embraced. Real-world evidence in software, science, personal growth, exercise, engineering, project management, philosophy, technology supports this idea. Embracing failure improves your chances of getting to successful results.
Failure is the only thing that teaches honest lessons. Without failure, how do we truly know what our boundaries are? Without failure, how do we know under which conditions success turns to catastrophe? Without failure, we cannot meaningfully evolve. Without failure, we cannot improve.
Failure is interesting, because it’s frequently surprising. There are so many ways to fail!
Not all failure is equal, however. This is where the methodology of failure comes into play. For failure to culminate in success, you must plan to fail, and do the work to get there. Simply failing because you did no preparation is not part of the fail-to-succeed journey – I wouldn’t even call it failure because that kind of non-action imparts no lessons and moves nothing.
One excellent plan-to-fail approach out there is TDD – test driven development methodology for software. TDD starts with creating test cases that are guaranteed to fail when they are first created because nothing exists to support them. Gradually, as you write code to support your test cases, the rate of failures diminishes, and in the end – a result that is made better through repeated failure.
Biological failure leads to evolution on a species scale and drives growth and development on a personal level; it happens to be a useful tool in a bodybuilder’s arsenal.
Failure is the only thing we can count on. As Mythbusters said, failure is always an option, so get comfortable with it, and it’ll serve you well.
Success is the boundary between effort and failure. Sure, there are other factors at play, but if you’re going to explore your potential and grow beyond your current limitations, striving for failure is the way to do it.
Rethink your views of failure. Embrace it, accept it as part of your process, and – most importantly – plan for it. Planning for failure creates robust more architectures than otherwise, and remember that it’s better to fail gracefully than catastrophically. The more imaginative you are in planning for failures, the more robust the end product will be, and even if you don’t get to where you thought you were going, you will learn a lot about yourself, the process, and your subject matter in the process – way more than if you merely achieved success.
To get an interesting perspective on failure, check out works by the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran – for an entertaining and abbreviated version you can also listen to one of my favorite podcasts, Philosophize This!