Failures are not Failure

Failures are essential for success. The NASA flight director, Gene Kranz, who is famous for the Apollo 13 quote, “Failure is not an option” has been misunderstood. Mr. Kranz did not mean “don’t fail.” He meant was that there will be a solution, think boldly and courageously because, while the solution may not be obvious to you now, you will find it eventually.

Accepting failures is not accepting failure.

Failures — trial and error, unforeseen roadblocks, creative thinking, visions, and revisions that a minute will reverse — lead to insight, innovation, creativity, and unforeseen breakthroughs. That’s success.

Failure is when you stop.

It’s an Attitude Problem

Attitude distinguishes success from failure as much as anything. Creativity and innovation, whether artistic, technical, or scientific hit constant and prolonged roadblocks. Then, just when the idea seems a dead-end, somewhere someone (or, more likely, some team) solves the previously insurmountable problem. Miraculously, once a solution is known, it’s solved by anyone. Why? The only thing that changed was how we thought about the problem and the possibility of a solution. We succeed when we know we can succeed.

Knowledge, despite the unknown, is a combination of confidence, perspective, understanding, and insight. It is obvious that once we know the problem can be solved, it’s merely an issue of finding the solution. But, what if we had that knowledge even before we knew for certain it could be solved (as did Mr. Kranz)? Or, conversely, how can we succeed if we are uncertain about a possible solution? Our work is either inspired, creative, and successful or it is inefficient, directionless, uninspired, and unsuccessful.

It shouldn’t be that the right attitude about the outcome makes all the difference. But it does. It may not guarantee success, but, success is impossible without it. When “failure is not an option” we don’t give up.

Failures, Creativity, and Innovation

Experience, training, and talent are indispensable, but perspective and attitude are most important. As Daniel Kahneman says, “we cannot escape human nature” and fortitude combined with belief and a leap of faith are irreducible factors that only we control. The right attitude distinguishes those who succeed. These are the ones who, instead of wondering if success is possible, find the way because they know it is possible. That’s creativity and innovation — a series of failures leading to success. We know there’s a solution, we don’t stop, we don’t fail.

“Failure is not an option” really means “we will ultimately succeed because there is a solution — we just have not found it yet.”

The Imposters

Failing is the path to success, but that path has no end. As Rudyard Kipling insisted, “treat both success and failure as the imposters they are.” The only bad outcome is stopping, whether you failed or succeeded.