Fail better

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Dave Briggs

BECKETTAs Samuel Beckett wrote, in Worstward Ho:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Acknowledging the fact that we surely don’t really want our project to fail, what does failing better actually mean?

It’s surely about openness – in other words, admitting that things didn’t go to plan, and having a frank discussion about what went wrong – so that everyone can learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Often projects that don’t quite succeed are brushed under the carpet and never mentioned again, or worse, spun to pretend that everything was hunky dory.

Here’s a lovely example of openness around failure from Chris Poole, the legendary moot of 4chan fame, discussing what went wrong with his company that made the Drawquest app:

With that said, life goes on, and the best path forward is not a wounded one, but a more learned and motivated one. I’m definitely not itching to start another company any time soon—it will take time to decompress and reflect on the events of the past four years—but I hope that if I do some day decide to pursue a new dream, I’ll be in a much better position to. After all, I did just receive a highly selective, four-year education for a mere $3.6 million dollars! (I find humor helps as well.)

So when reviewing a project which perhaps didn’t turn out as expected, rather than covering things up, or apportioning blame, try to fail a bit better. Identity what went wrong, and how it could have been avoided – and tell people about it.

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David B. Grinberg

Nice post, Dave.

Let’s recall how many times famous inventors — like Thomas Edison, for example — fail before they succeed. How many time did Edison fail to invent the electric light bulb before he succeeded? Hundreds or thousands of attempts.

As the great inventor/innovator said:

  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Or, put another way, sometimes one learns more through failure than success — which eventually leads to success with hard work and endless perseverance (luck and timing are helpful too).

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