I once had a teacher in 9th grade have us write down some principles for successful living. “Test Fast, Fail Fast” I scribbled down on the back of an assignment. “Wasn’t the point of life not to fail,” I thought to myself. Like a good student though, I folded the list up and stuck it in my wallet. I still have the list in my wallet today. Over the years I have come back to the list and have begun to realize the genius in my teacher’s words, specifically his insight on failure.
You see, what my teacher was getting at was a lifestyle of trying new things without fear of failure. A constant iteration of testing, failing, learning, testing, failing, learning; and all of this very quickly. Simply put, much more is learned from trying and failing then could ever be discovered solely by planning beforehand. And if you walk out this process quickly, you arrive at a success much faster and armed with more wisdom and insight than you ever could by standing on the sidelines analyzing the “fail-free” route.
The American entrepreneurial community has caught on to this idea more than anyone, viewing failure as a badge of honor rather than a scarlet letter. I have been told that some venture capitalists refuse to fund a business proposal put forth by someone who hasn’t previously failed in at least one or two other start-up efforts. Why? The experience of failure brings with it so many side-benefits that the person who has failed is actually better equipped than someone who has never tried before.
Two other people have recently peaked my interest in failure: Brad Feld and J.K. Rowling. Feld is one of the entrepreneurs I made reference to above that has been taking a deeper look at failure on his blog, Feld Thoughts. Check out his posts on failure here.
J.K. Rowling recently gave the graduation address to the class of 2008 at Harvard. She talked about the fringe benefits of failure as well as the importance of imagination. Watch the video of her brilliant speech here. Here is one of my favorite excerpts:
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
Over the next few months I plan on making a study of failure and sharing what I discover with all of you. I want to know how we benefit from failure and why we fear it so much as well as how to overcome that fear.
Please send me any links on failure you think might be of interest to me. And comment below with your thoughts and stories of failure and whether or not you think they were valuable.