November 4th, 2007
No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better
A link tossed in to the stream by Joe Tennis on Twitter, stirred up thoughts about failure. Joe’s pointer was to a blog posting on the process of creating computer games, and the ideal of setting up an environment where failure can happen faster and isn’t punished. That’s a unique idea in this day and age.
If you intend to participate in a creative profession, whether it’s writing fiction, making paintings or plays, creating companies, products or software— you’ll need to learn to live in, and with, failure. In a sense, success is the failure that we’ve made an accomodation with. We shoot for perfection, and we always fall short. Dave Winer summed it up in 1995 in his motto for Living VideoText — We make shitty software, with bugs. Software must ship prior to perfection, in that way it’s like life. We must live our lives prior to perfection. If we wait, we’ll miss everything.
Failure is tied to risk. If failure is not an option, risk is not an option. If risk isn’t an option, only a very small kind of success is possible. The principle is the same as an investment portfolio. You can banish risk, but you can’t expect a high level of return. Risk is a requirement of potential high return. The same is true in any creative pursuit, if you want a big success, you’ll need to learn to live with risk and failure.
And not just live with them, but to call them friends. Learning how to fail faster means learning how to succeed faster. Creating a safe environment for failure encourages risk taking and exploration. It gets you there faster. But just as with success, not all failure is equally successful. Failures need to be crafted just as carefully as successes. Just ask Samuel Beckett…