Fail Spectacularly

As leaders, it is essential to look at failure with the correct perspective. In Empowerment, we discussed the idea of trying without fear of failure. This article discusses why a huge failure is actually an indicator of success.

Most advice is calibration. Eat less (because you’re inclined to overeat). Study more (because you’ll probably wait too long and cram right before the exam). Procrastinate less (because you’ll probably spend days stressing about trying to do the thing that if you just did it now, it wouldn’t be all that

I try to think about how I’m biased in ways that lead me away from the ideal point between extremes. One way that I’m biased is with failure. I avoid failure too much, and I think you do too.

Failing too little might seem like an odd worry, but I like to worry about odd things. Because only having successes probably means you’re not being sufficiently bold in your plans and ideas. If everything you do is a success, then you’re playing it too safe.

“Ah! But I fail all the time,” you say. “It must be nice to succeed constantly so that worrying about failing too little is your biggest worry,” you add, with more than a dollop of sarcasm.

I fail too. But what I’ve noticed is that usually when I fail, I’m rarely trying my hardest. Instead, what happens, is that I think I’m going to fail and I start holding back. I divest resources, I procrastinate, I don’t really try. That way, when the failure inevitably comes, I can hold in my mind the idea that I didn’t really care in the first place.

All of this only serves the purpose of preventing me from bruising my ego. By withdrawing resources early (sometimes before I’ve even begun), I can protect myself from failure in advance.

So, no, my suggestion isn’t to simply fail more. Many people intuitively feel like they do enough of that already.

Instead, my suggestion is that you should fail more spectacularly. Fail when you really did try your hardest and there was no way for you to have done better. Fail with the same zest and enthusiasm as when you succeed.

“The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”