A failure is only worth as much as the success it precedes. Our culture celebrates high school dropouts (e.g. Richard Branson) only when they turn out to be millionaires. High school dropouts who populate prisons don’t exactly get the same sort of press. When all the spotlight is shone on the former, it’s easy to fall into the trap of equating failure with innovative genius. This is the danger for startup culture, where the mantra “Fail early, fail fast, fail often” reigns supreme. In context, the phrase refers to rapid prototyping where learning quick and finding workable solutions is key in product evolution, but it seems to be seeping into places that do not fit the same bill. According to Bruce Nussbaum of Creative Intelligence, “It is celebrated only when you succeed. If you continue to fail, you’re going to be—A Failure. So the fetishism of failure really means you can fail a couple of times—two or maybe three times—but no more. How many entrepreneurs are celebrated for their sixth or seventh try?” He continues, “Failure is usually associated with problem-solving. There’s an assumption that there is one right problem with one right answer and if you can’t get it, you fail. But what if you don’t even know what the problems are and there are lots of ways of dealing with them? I prefer the Play mode of dealing with challenges. When you play, there are rules but they change as you play the game. There are different outcomes to playing a game, different ways of winning. When something doesn’t work, you try another. You do work arounds. Is that Failure? I don’t think so. Do kids who go to Montessori school think of themselves as Failures when their blocks don’t quite fit together? I doubt it.
So maybe it’s time to challenge this orthodoxy of Fail, Fail, Fail so you can Succeed, Succeed, Succeed. It’s all about the learning and the knowledge and you don’t have to embrace a cult of failure to get that.”