I’m having a little trouble figuring out how I feel about the ‘fail harder’ and ‘fail often’ sentiment I see quite often; primarily on Twitter.
Perhaps it’s time to prune those I follow or maybe I just don’t understand the concept.
To me, failure isn’t OK. Failure isn’t something that you should be comfortable with when approaching a task. You need to understand it as a possibility but not focus on it as a certainty.
Facing a deadline? You’d better meet it. Failing here means you won’t get the job, hold-up your end of the bargain, or meet the expectations of a client.
Launching a business? The implications of failure could run very deep and include irreperable damage to relationships and financial strife lasting many years.
Money is real. Relationships are real. There is no safety net.
Having run a small business for the last six years I’ve failed many times. Shouldn’t have taken on that contract. That last hire was not a good idea. Could have handled that client issue differently. I’ve made mistakes that have cost both money and relationships — these scenarios aren’t fun, suitable, or something I wanted to see happen.
I’ve learned immensely from all of these instances but not once did I go in thinking that failure was ‘OK’ or that learning was somehow better than succeeding. It seems to me that the attitude of accepting (or worse, expecting) failure from the outset is a step toward making it happen. Failure is something that should be dealt with as it happens and is decidedly reactionary. Deal with it. Learn. Move on.
I guess what I’d like to see is the replacement of ‘fail often’ and ‘fail harder’ with ‘try often’ and ‘try harder.’ To foster the entrepreneurial culture that I believe is the backbone of a solid economy we should really be trying more things more often. None of these things, however, should be treated with such insignificance that failure is a suitable outcome. It may happen but should never be sought after.
If you don’t want to knock it out of the park (or at least get on base) there’s no sense in stepping up to the plate.
Update/Feb 6 2012: Read this excellent response to my post by Nick Wynja. Valuable insight on the necessity of failure and why it exists.