If You Want To Succeed, Double Your Failure Rate

The saying “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate” is attributed to Thomas J. Watson (Chairman and CEO of IBM 1914-1956).

Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success. Few famous quotes of Failure are:

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Wired Magazine editor Kevin Kelly explains that a great deal can be learned from things going unexpectedly, and that part of science’s success comes from keeping blunders “SMALL, MANAGEABLE, CONSTANT, AND TRACKABLE”.

Failure and SuccessThe criteria for failure are heavily dependent on context of use, and may be relative to a particular observer or belief system. A situation considered to be a failure by one might be considered a success by another.

Failure can be differentially perceived from the viewpoints of the evaluators. A person who is only interested in the final outcome of an activity would consider it to be an Outcome Failure if the core issue has not been resolved or a core need is not met. A failure can also be a process failure whereby although the activity is completed successfully, a person may still feel dissatisfied if the underlying process is perceived to be below expected standard or benchmark. (Source: Wikipedia)

World around us is filled with uncertainty. In other words it’s certain that the uncertainty exists. Planning and executing projects based on this certainty increases the odds of success. My prediction may come true sometimes but that’s one of the outcomes of the uncertain events and I call it as a chance or co-incidence. A success or failure is the outcome of myriad of events. Expected performance of all the events lead to a huge success. Also unexpected behavior of all the events lead to a catastrophe. The probability of both the events is very less. In one of the cases one event may outperform or underperform others and lead to a success OR failure respectively. It’s NOT possible to detect that particular event in advance. I see this behavior very often like failure of an entire space mission due to a small glitch in one its engines, acquiring a  life threatening disease to a healthy man from a small infection, and failure of a mega event due to absence of a key person, etc.

I succeed by chance and I fail by chance. Ideas are not evaluated independently. They are rated as poor or excellent only after their impeccable execution. It’s extremely important to keep the losses (costs) small; for example, invest one twentieth of the total risk capital on every idea (See Kelly criterion to determine the optimal size). Pick up the ideas that succeed and scale-up, and see that they can sustain in that state for a while, and implement the same methodology.

I MUST FAIL in order to understand my potential. It’s important to setup the next goal much bigger than the one achieved earlier. It’s very important to stretch myself until I fail. My achieved goals or the set goals don’t measure my strength. My point of failure to achieve the set goal is the measure of my true potential.

I have tried to simplify my thoughts on success and failure in few words. Though the concepts are randomly presented I hope any of the ideas may be a starting point for you to explore them in depth and benefit you in shaping your thought process.

Flickr Creative Commons Image via Beat Küng.