Failures Matter

Ever been to a stand-up comedy act of a newbie comic? It is a raw, unpolished and unusual experience. Every once in a while, a bunch of these newbies group together, and someone offers them a platform with a microphone. The tickets typically cost half (or less) than regular, and the venue is not very up-market. And, on a challenging day, it almost feels like they shouldn’t have attempted this at all, and spared you the inconvenience of a wasted evening.

But that’s precisely why you should attend such gigs.

From the early days of our childhood, Society drums into us that success is good – worth working towards, and failure is bad – best avoided. This theme plays out in multiple spheres of our work as well as life. And, this “preferred” approach is evident in almost every thing we do.

Those that excel at their work get all the recognition and the rewards. However, attempts at creating new vistas or forging new paths are often derided, even eliminated, as a routine part of the process. There is no incentive to try out something new, especially if the path is riddled with the possibility of failure. There is hardly any support, let alone enablement or reward, to experiment, test and iterate. Is it any surprise that most of us go about our lives toeing the line, and making sure we don’t rock the boat?

As a result, we hardly ever experience any public acts of attempting to build something from scratch – often what comes across our table is a finished product. Media channels merely report success stories, further fueling the ‘survivorship bias’ that makes us think every startup will ultimately become a unicorn!

So, if you want to see more innovation, go to that open mic night, experiment with new approaches, and encourage those around you to do the same. As professionals, we can do more to enable it in our workplaces. As a society, we can do more to enable it in our homes and communities.

Failures do matter. And, we certainly need more exposure to them. Without the space to fail, how can we create a new tomorrow?

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