The False Hope of Failure

Failure is a buzz word in today’s fast and frenzied Internet startup world.  Many are focusing on it, saying not to be intimidated by it.  While the intention is good, the growing focus on failure is a false hope that cannot bring success by itself.

True, the fear of failure can be paralyzing.  Perfectionists often don’t get anything done because they cannot accept even the possibility of failure, leaving them paralyzed at the starting line and left in the dust by the rest of the world who embraces their mistakes, learns from them, and moves toward the finish line as a result.

During my short stint as a stand-up comic, I wrote a joke on perfectionism:  “I have the best joke on perfectionism that you’ve ever heard,” I would say, “but it isn’t ready to tell yet.”

In this light, yes, you should not be afraid to fail and be willing to “embrace” it if you do.  But one does not achieve success by failing.  Failure is, well, just that.

Failing may give you the opportunity to learn, yes, and it may uncover important information that allows you to move forward—often information that you would have never learned if you hadn’t tried in the first place.

That doesn’t mean you should seek it out.  When Michael Jordan takes a jump shot, he is not aiming to miss.  If he does miss, while it may be an opportunity to learn, it did not score him any points.

But isn’t the opportunity to learn from failure the point?  Yes, in a way, but it also misses the wider principle.  Failure itself is just one way to learn and grow.  Consider that success gives you that very same opportunity and for the very same reason.

Just like failure, with success you must always perform a postmortem on your actions, your project, your business, whatever, and discover the reasons behind your results.  They are both learning opportunities and success’ sweet smell isn’t as potent unless you know the cause behind it.

This is important to remember at the start of any project, task or business proposition.  Focusing on failure is a sure way to get sidetracked and land yourself in a rut, leaving you wondering when the heck all that success is going to come.  If failure is your focus, it never will.

Instead, set your sights on the target—settling for nothing less than full understanding of your results—and shoot to win.