agility: is failing an option?

October 20th, 1995, the premiere of Apollo 13. After discussing several options, Ed Harris launches one of the most iconic sentences in the movie: “Failure is not an option!”. In fact, considering the possible outcome, failing was not an option. But what about real life? Our day-to-day. Should we always consider failing as not an option? Or should we embrace it as part of our lives? (Photo by Damir Babacic on Unsplash).

what is a failure?

Let’s start by defining failure. The dictionary states failure as:

  • lack of success;
  • a state of inability to perform a normal function;
  • omission of performing a duty or expected action.

In a way, we can consider failing everything that falls into the spectre of the unexpected. Something that deviates from preconceived plans.

So, why do we fear failing? Why fear the unexpected? Psychology can help with the answer. For instance, in the book Drive, the author states that we have intrinsic motivators. One of them is having a purpose, which can be translated to having objectives or goals. Achieving them can give us a sense of self-realisation. We are happy when we succeed. Regardless of individual definitions, we, as human beings, tend to thrive for success.


But failure leads to the exact opposite. It makes us feel as we did something wrong and need an explanation for it. A failure is proof that our perfect plans have flaws, that we are not as good as we thought. It makes us feel fragile.
Despite this, there are some trends encouraging failure. Why? If failure makes us feel bad, why push for it? Don’t we all want to achieve success? Seems counter-intuitive, but there is a good explanation for it.

why failing?

Failing may not seem the most exciting thing, but not accepting it can be worse. Failure tends to just happen. However, every failure brings something new: a new learning. And learning is what makes us evolve.


Failing exists so that we can learn more and evolve faster. Accepting failure takes out the fear of experimenting and fosters innovation. If Thomas Edison was afraid of failing, he wouldn’t have invented the light bulb. And according to the myth, he failed more than 10.000 times. Can you imagine a world where no electricity exists? Moreover, can you imagine yourself failing 10.000 times?


But we shouldn’t just accept failure. If we fail but disregard the learning process, we won’t evolve. Edison didn’t just fail, he “found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Our ability to realize what is wrong is what makes us great.

The key is to understand the level of failure we can sustain to not despair and keep the motivation to try again.

dealing with failure

Looking into it, we fail so that we don’t fail again. Or at least to not repeat the same failure. The more we fail, the more we learn and the better we become.
Learning fast is key to becoming better. The way to learn fast is to fail faster. So, increasing the number of failures can be the right approach to learning more. The main question that arises is “how to fail more?”. The answer is, in theory, easy: reduce the size of failure. Putting that into practice is much harder. Let’s divide this into steps:

1

If you have an idea or a theory, think about the smallest thing you can do to prove it.

2

Always keep in mind the chances of failure are bigger than the chances of succeeding. It’s rare to succeed on the first try.

3

For each failure, have some key takeaways.

4

Repeat! Take into consideration the learnings, and do not make the same mistakes.

Keep in mind this is an oversimplification of the process. Without the correct mindset, it will be hard to reach success.

You’ll need to work on your resilience. Assure yourself that you will fail many times, expect it more often than achieving success. Never lose hope and celebrate the smallest achievements. Keep building your knowledge and keep pushing.
You’ll also need to think in simpler ways. Breaking down your experiments isn’t easy, but it’s the only way to better cope with the disappointment of a failure. Remember, creating high expectations, big plans, and developing big solutions increases the risk of a bigger disappointment. And bigger the pain, the less willing to try again. So, simplify everything as much as possible.


If you work on these concepts, your chances to become better may increase. There is no guaranteed success, but it’s a step closer.

failing is not an option

So, failing is really not an option, it’s mostly a certainty of life. Everyone, even the more experienced, is prone to fail. The only option you have is how to deal with it.
Failing makes us evolve, despite not being pleasant. There is a thin line that will help you keep your mental sanity and still learn and innovate.

If you want to know more about the art of failing, I recommend “Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win“ by John D. Krumboltz and Ryan Babineaux. There you can find more tips on how to deal with failure and how you should embrace it. It’s written by professionals in psychology, so they’ll probably know more about it than I do.