Failing Flat Out

I read a great blog from Seth Godin last week titled “After you’ve done your best”. He posed a question on what do you do when you’ve done your best, and still failed. He makes the point that it is critical to learn from failure, and crippling to connect to failure at an emotional level. I hadn’t thought about it in these terms before, but when I aim to fail 50% of my big goals and major projects, I’m trying to make it emotionally OK to fail. I’m setting myself up in advance to not feel disappointed, or ashamed, or a failure, or any of the other feelings that have us seek to avoid failing.

When I read that, I did what all good Thought Leaders do, I imagined a quadrant model – four boxes that make up a square. In my mind, it looked a bit like this:

Which give us four options:

1.    Succeeding half-hearted. Some things we can only put a bit of ourselves into and still pull off. Nice when you get it, but generally not going to be the big things. 2.    Succeeding full out. These are the things that give us the greatest satisfaction – we’ve left nothing in the tank, and come out victorious. 3.    Failing half-hearted. This is playing safe. We can fool ourselves into thinking we didn’t really fail because we didn’t give it everything. Too much of this is dangerous. 4.    Failing flat out. This can be the hardest, and is by far the most important. All successful people have had spectacular failures giving there all.

Failing flat out is what we want to get comfortable with, and why I recommend that people aim to fail 50%. Because if we aren’t able to risk failing at 100%, then we’ll be half-hearted in everything, and never succeed full out either.

In Bull Durham, one of my favourite movies, Tim Robbins’ character, “Nuke” Laloosh, is in the middle of a winning streak when he says something very profound about success and failure. “I love winning … you know … it’s like better than losing”. And emotionally he’s right. But in terms of building character, and learning about yourself, failing flat out beats winning every time.

So go out and fail, fail hard, fail often, fail spectacularly, fail at the right things and fail flat out.

Love to hear your thoughts and experiences – you can leave your comments below.