Growth comes from real failure

There is a certain narrative that is prevalent in contemporary startup cultures. Its story goes something along the lines of “failure is good so long as you’re learning from it”. On the surface it suggests speed and adaptiveness: fast-moving iterations driven by a tight feedback loop calibrated to avoid waste (who wants to spend hours building something nobody wants, right?). I’ll be the first to admit: it sounded smart, tenacious and brave.

But this version of failure has a subtle consequence: stagnancy. All of a sudden the act of failing becomes a mundane event, just one of many more to come. Failure loses its power. It strips you of the ability to question the bigger picture. Each time you fail, you are encouraged to take a different angle and try again (until you fail again, rinse, and repeat).

The truth is that real failure hurts. Real failure drives you into a dark corner and forces you to reconsider what you value in life. And then you grow.

  • Alex Veldtman

    When Alexander the Great arrived on the shores of Persia his army was overwhelmingly outnumbered. Yet he gave the orders to his men to burn the boats. As their only means of retreat went up in flames, legend has it that Alexander turned to his men and said, “We go home in Persian ships, or we die”.

    I think “real failure” as you put it is where you’ve fully invested yourself into the success of your endeavour and simply could not make it work no matter how hard you tried. Real failure means losing something when you fail.

    If you aren’t fully invested, chances are you will quit at the first hurdle and you may have been practicing a strange type of procrastination – trying something halfheartedly is easier that doing the real work that might succeed (but is just as likely to fail).