D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Failure Is Not and Should Never Be An Option

Thursday, May 26, 2011 9:33 PM

The Vancouver Canucks have advanced to the Stanley Cup playoffs, vanquishing the San Jose Sharks in the process. After the game, Joe Thorton was interviewed. Here’s what he said:

Yeah, it stings knowing that we got so close to the Stanley Cup playoffs. But like our coach said to us, we need to just learn from this experience. It’s ok that we didn’t make the next round, we’ll all grow as a team and individuals.

Or how about the Pittsburgh Steelers player who, after losing the SuperBowl to Green Bay, said:

Hey, there’s a whole bunch of teams that wish they were here where we are. You don’t get to the SuperBowl too often, but just getting here is great. I’m happy with how the game went, and I know its made me a better player.

What, you didn’t hear about those quotes? Well, that’s because they didn’t happen. They’d never happen, less the person being quoted got booted off his team the next day!

We have all sorts of sayings that people have come up with to help make us feel better when things don’t go right:

“We learn from our failures.”

“Fail. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better”

This was echoed in a recent tweet from a local business conference. The speaker, a CEO of a technology company, was quoted as saying:

It’s okay to fail – it’s how we learn.

But that’s wrong! That’s what’s so wrong with our world today! We’re afraid to hold people up to standards, to stand up against mediocrity and apathy, and instead wrap it in a pretty bow and sell it as self help.

It’s NOT OK to Fail

It’s *never* ok to fail. As parents, are we ok with our children failing at school? We should be because they’re learning, right? Should we be ok if we fail at our jobs? It’s ok because the more we fail, the more we learn and get better (although then why do we keep on failing?).

Let me be clear on something: I absolutely agree that we learn from our mistakes, that the failures we do experience in our lives teach us a great deal. But this idea that its just ok to fail, that regardless of winning or losing there’s always some silver lining, is wrong. And its typically preached by people who don’t succeed very often.

Failure Should Be A Possible Outcome, Not An Option

The difference between an outcome and an option is control: I can control whether I include failure as an option, I have to accept that failure may be an undesirable outcome.

Having failure as an option asks “What if?” whereas not having it as an option states “When we…”. It’s confidence, its moxie, its the firm belief, focus, and will to see something through to the end, and not just limp over the finish line but run full speed with arms raised!

I suggest a new mantra, one that doesn’t lead us down the path of self-analysis at the hands of defeat, but one that pushes us to be better, bolder, stronger, and more successful:

Success is imperative, but if you fail then learn from it and make sure it never happens again.

And if anyone tells you its ok to fail, make sure to ask them when the last time they succeeded at something was.




Feedback

# re: Failure Is Not and Should Never Be An Option

I'm digging this post brother! 5/27/2011 10:27 AM | Ryan Caligiuri

# re: Failure Is Not and Should Never Be An Option

I'm not sure I agree with you. I live by the being ok with failure and I think I succeed a whole heckuva alot.

I think you'll find that people who aren't scared of failure and are perfectly ok with it especially as a motivator to try a new approach and as a learning experience succeed more than people who aren't ok with failure.

Just not sure I see eye to eye on you with this one...

5/27/2011 10:37 AM | George Clingerman

# re: Failure Is Not and Should Never Be An Option

"I think you'll find that people who aren't scared of failure and are perfectly ok with it especially as a motivator to try a new approach and as a learning experience succeed more than people who aren't ok with failure."

Dude, we're on the same page, except that I would guess that those who aren't afraid of failure *aren't* ok with it. So I put on Prairie Dev Con last year for the first time. Could it have failed? Maybe, but I wasn't thinking that. I was thinking how awesome the event would be. If it had failed, I definitely would have learned a lot, but I never went *into* the endeavor thinking "Hey, if this doesn't work out that's ok."

Maybe a different way to look at it is learn from your failures, but don't plan to fail.

D 5/27/2011 10:43 AM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Failure Is Not and Should Never Be An Option

I think people who have the "Win at all cost, failure is not an option" attitude are generally dangerous. To themselves and others. I know you didn't address the "Win at all costs" mindset, but it's very easy to slide from one to another.

There are a few scenarios where it's required to value success above attempting to succeed and your opening sports analogies highlight one (war is the other), but in most cases, it's detrimental.

Ta.
Steve Porter 5/27/2011 3:28 PM | Steve Porter

# re: Failure Is Not and Should Never Be An Option

"I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."

Michael Jordon

5/28/2011 11:21 AM | Steve Porter

# re: Failure Is Not and Should Never Be An Option

Steve - Well now you're talking about leadership styles. You can be on a challenged project, where success has to happen, and not be a tyrant demanding overtime and whipping your team members. It becomes more about guidance, poise, and direction, not threats and if-else scenarios.

I love that Jordan quote btw. The danger in what he said is that "trying" is subjective. Half-assed trying, or leave-it-all-on-the-field trying?

D 5/29/2011 10:09 PM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Failure Is Not and Should Never Be An Option

I read a quote recently that I think explains what I was trying to get across really well:

Learn from your failure, but graduate to success.

D 6/23/2011 8:11 AM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Failure Is Not and Should Never Be An Option

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