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Failure Is Good
Posted By Jim On 10/22/2008 @ 8:09 am In Devil's Advocate | 10 Comments
This Devil’s Advocate post is really borderline Devil’s Advocate because it’s not entirely in the spirit of taking a position against something that’s considered prevailing wisdom. You could say that the prevailing wisdom is that failure is bad, success is good; but as the advocate I’m not advocating that you should try to fail. I’m merely saying that failure itself is not a bad thing, much like success itself is not always a good thing; it’s all in context.
Either way, failure should not be seen as always a bad thing because it’s not. Failure teaches you how to better approach situations in the future – they are learning experiences. Failure also teaches you how to deal with failure, how you might not always get what you want but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.
Failure isn’t good, but it’s not always bad.
There’s an often told story about IBM CEO Tom Watson that really drives this point home. It’s said that in the 1960s, he called an executive to his office after the executive’s venture lost the firm $10 million. Watson asked the executive why he thought he was being called into the office. The executive assumed he was being fired. Watson’s response? “Fired? Hell, I spent $10 million educating you. I just want to be sure you learned the right lessons.”
There is only one place where failure is the end – that’s on a battlefield during a time of war. Everywhere else, thankfully, failure is merely an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and try again. No where else is this more evident than in the lessons of love. Little boys show their admiration for little girls by calling them names, pulling their hair, and throwing gum at them. Clearly this does not work. As little boys grow and mature, they quickly learn that girls like to talk, walk on the beach, and do all sorts of other boring things with their loved ones. Imagine a man who never “failed” as a child and start calling women names, pulling their hair, and throwing gum? I think you see my point.
You can’t hit home runs unless you swing for the fences. Many a ball player have made very nice careers for themselves playing role positions and getting on base however they can, but not many last as you can always find someone faster and stronger to do that. If you want to hit home runs and get your jersey on the best seller list, you’re going to have to go hard after something and take some risks.
With risk comes reward and a higher probability of failure. In the IBM story, that failure cost $10 million in the 1960s. However, think of all the ventures IBM did succeed in launching and how much those could’ve cost had they failed. You place your bets with the best information you have, you work your tail off to try to get them to work, and whatever happens happens. You do what you can but sometimes circumstances are beyond your control. Don’t let those circumstances and don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you from doing anything. Don’t let fear make your decisions. 
In movies, characters say “failure is not an option!” In life, failure isn’t necessarily an “option” but it’s a potential result. Sometimes it’s not the worst result though! Failure today is better than a long drawn out failure that prevents you from focusing on something else. Think about stock investments for a minute, how many losers are you holding right now? Studies show that people hold onto losers far longer than they should and every dollar trapped in a losing position in one that can’t be invested in a potential winner. I’m not saying you should go out and sell all your losses and go elsewhere, but some of those are losers that will never recover. Anyone holding onto shares of Amazon from the dot com boom? Chances are Amazon won’t get back there for a long long time.
Failing quickly, and learning from that failure, is better than failing for a protracted period of time. Sometimes there is still hope and dragging things out will put you in a better position to succeed, but sometimes it’s stubbornness and fear of failure that drives you to continue down a failed path. Be able to differentiate the two.
Fear of failure prevents many people from pursuing the things they want out of life, don’t let it dominate you.
(Photo: pbo31 )
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