A romantic notion about entrepreneurs and high achievers is that failureis good. Anyone who reads business books, self-help books or listens to any type of human performance podcast (like I like to do) will recognize the story of Thomas Edison who was purported to have tried to create a light bulb using various material for the filament. Having tried over 1,000 different variations of filaments he finally succeeded. Hence the idea that one must fail often to ultimately succeed.
Another phrase often heard is “Fail fast-fail often”. There is even a book that was written with that title (which I have not read). The concept again, is if you fail quickly, if you work through the many variations of design of a product or service, one will reach success earlier. Good product design, measured by sales, which can be measured by either the monetary metric or volume has traditionally been a result of this fail fast-fail often option.
In Edison’s day, he had to relay on physical iterations of testing. There were no computer simulations, or an artificial intelligence machine-learning algorithm that could assist him in his lab in Menlo Park. In fact, he “failed” or tried at least 6,000 times to find the right filament.
Be careful in adopting this paradigm. Failing in the world of economic development and government is not easily tolerated. Nearly every elected official run their campaigns on the platform of “jobs.” If it’s not the primary element of their election campaign it will almost always be some part of it. As an economic developer most of us are under pressure to perform so that our elected officials (who are also often our funders) can claim victory. Not performing, not getting jobs created by the private sector by existing companies or by attracting new ones has cost many an economic developer his or her job.
In fact, the fifth characteristic of FLOW points to the opposite of failure. It says, “Failure in not an option”.In fact, there is no thought of failure. Failure in not an option because you are thinking simply about the present actions required to complete the task. Time, skills, and the task on hand morph together and failure is not even a thought that crosses your mind.
Think of the high-performance skier or BASE Wingsuit jumper, or a Hollywood stuntman. For them there is no question that failure is not an option. There are no opportunities for multiple iterations or experimentation. It is time to perform. Think of the times you have been in the zone, when you have been in flow. Think of the times that some of the other characteristics of flow kicked in. Your probably thought, “I can’t fail at this…I’m killing it!”
FLOW means that you are clear of your goal, your feedback is immediate, you are fully aware of the situation, time is non-existent and you must succeed. There is no option.
NASA’s Apollo space program of the late sixties and early seventies was the epitome of FLOW. Every aspect of the mission to land on the Moon was thought through and every contingency was considered. Once they committed, once the astronauts were launched, the rockets launched, the boosters fired, and the landing was in sight everyone was at the top of their game. There was no thought of failure, only success. There was no opportunity for Edison-style 1,000 failures. They were going in.
What if you could trigger flow on a daily basis and failure was not option? That really is what we all strive for, isn’t it? Being in FLOW means putting all of your concentration and ferocity in the present situation and not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. That is how the Apollo 11 mission to the moon achieved success. There was no room or thought of failure despite the documented challenges they faced in getting there.
Strive for success, leave failure for those folks inventing lightbulbs.