Remember that time you took a super hard exam in elementary school, and you skipped question #1 because you were going to circle back to it soon. Then 5 minutes later you had circled your way to zero answers and time was up? I remember that time. It was awkward and the world looked at me differently that day. That was one of my first tastes of failure. And obviously, I didn't enjoy it. And for the most part it wasn't suppose to be enjoyed. Teachers looked down upon me, parent's became upset and I was no longer the smart kid in school. At least for that week. So I bunkered down, cracked open a book, studied and worked my way up to a solid B student.
So today I'll be talking about Failure. What it is, why it's important, and why the more you do it the closer you are to success. It goes against what most people are taught, but maybe that's why success is so hard to achieve nowadays. Because we're not being taught that failure, is a crucial step in the success latter. In fact, if success were at the very top of a latter, failure would be each step until you arrived there.
What is failure?
The official definition of failure from Wikipedia is "Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective...". So I'll use that as a baseline for this discussion. In it's broadest sense, failure is not getting to the end of an objective. Which sounds very reasonable and technically, there's nothing wrong with it. In our current society however we don't treat it as such. Failure is to be avoided at all costs because failure has consequences for most of us. If you fail enough tests in high school, you can't go to college. If you fail enough in college, you might have to change majors.
So that's the actual societal definition of failure. Failure is a negative side effect of trying that you will attempt to avoid as much as possible. And that sounds nothing like the official definition. So it's been warped slightly I would say.
We can't make these corrections without the act of failure unfortunately. As an example I'll mention SpaceX and their self-landing rocket Falcon 9. This is a case of purposeful failure. This is how failure should be treated. The engineers at SpaceX couldn't adjust and calculate for certain variables without the rocket crashing. That data was crucial for them. So much so that on several occasions, the rocket has been crashed on purpose in order to generate more data.
Knowing how and why something failed is the only way to fix it and make it stronger. It is often said that it took Edison 10,000 attempts before he perfected the lightbulb. And as a more recent example, James Dyson, creator and owner of Dyson took thousands upon of thousands of prototypes before he found the right design for his vacuums. And if anyone knows vacuums, it's Mr Dyson. Success is an iterative process. It just so happens that we have labeled these iterations as 'failure', when in reality, they are just that, iterations.
Don't risk your entire company because I told you to fail. But maybe take a small dip in an unknown pond just to see if there's anything of value there. Because failure is also accumulative. The only time that failure isn't accumulative is when you're making the same mistake over and over and over, and that my friends is the definition of insanity. So fail as often as you can given your circumstances.
Learning To Fail
And that brings me to my main point. Failing isn't an easy task like most of us make it out to be. "You didn't study? Of course you failed" kind of thing. It's a complex series of steps that both take you one step back at the benefit of being able to jump 2 ahead after you correct it. It's realization followed by analysis followed by reinterpretation.
The moment that you realized you failed is an amazing moment, because it means that you know what has gone wrong. And knowing why something is wrong is the first step in correcting it. Or tweaking it just slightly so that it works better the next time. Success is nothing more than a long series of failures, and after each failure you adjust and move forward.
And as with anything else, this takes some level of practice. The following article goes over some effective methods that you can take in your learning to overcome this outdated pattern.
Failure Becomes Success
And now my last point. Our entire civilization has been built upon failure. Countless years of people who embraced the flawed in order for future generations to avoid making those same mistakes. And that process still continues now. It's how many people around the world live each and every day. In the realm of uncertainty. It's why we have solar power now and electric cars. We saw the problems with conventional gas, and we (someone) corrected it. And then corrected it again and again. The easiest approach to learning to fail is to just refer to it as something with a less negative connotation. Let's call it "not there yet". "How'd you do on that exam?". "It's not quite there yet". Because eventually, it's going to get there.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.