Failure Is The Engine That Drives The Future

November 27, 2013

Read a note today by someone on Hacker News who lamented his failure in starting a company and the ever growing disaster it was causing made me think.

We all were all failures once; everything sucked at some point. The thing is, if you never failed you probably never risked anything either. I know people who've worked at the same company for their whole career. To me, that's the real sad story.

To try, to risk everything on an idea, to drop everything you have into something you care about and then fail is still the right thing to do. It's some Neanderthal charging a huge beast with a stick, it's some guy flying blind across an ocean, it's a college dropout building computer boards in his dad's garage. It's making life interesting even if you fall flat on your ass or worse.

But to not try, that's the real failure.

I've been there on several occasions and generally it didn't work out too well, especially financially. My peers all look to retirement and I don't see how. Yet I've gotten to do magical things, seen revolution from the inside, and even banged my brains on stuff few people have ever done. Playing it safe isn't terribly interesting.

The world grows when people take chances, throw away caution and even ignore the present entirely in a search for the future. And often they fail terribly, painfully, absolutely. But the path to the future is full of misery and failure, and occasionally massive success. Each failure teaches us (or someone at least) a little bit more. Like evolution we try all sorts of stupid ideas assuming that some day a wonderful flower will appear. It might not appear to us though. That's the risk we take.

Life moves on, the future will come on its own schedule even if our failure is painful to bear. But to just sit there and be a watcher and do nothing is really a waste. It's better to be one of the dead ends than to just sit there dead.

If no one took chances, avoided failure like the plague, and refused to help bring the future in then we would never get out of the present.

Sure it's nice to be in a startup that rocks the world and cashes out the big bucks but that is still pretty rare. Failure is much more likely, almost a guarantee. In the end it isn't the money (though it is nice) but the burning desire to be there when the future shows up, and later on look back and be amazed you saw it coming. But to be there you have to be willing to be wrong, to be early, to be late, to even be stupid enough to try.

I've had great ideas where I marketed them wrong, ideas that I gave up on that turned out to be a big deal for other people, or even ideas that had the worst timing possible (think travel startup the week before 9/11 bad timing). But you have to try anyway.

Failure is the engine that drives the future. Without the willingness to crash and burn nothing new will get invented, discovered or promoted.

So go forth and fail! Repeatedly. Until you succeed. Feed the future.