The British Army’s Special Air Service—one of the original special operations organizations—has a motto that encapsulates everything about the mindset required to be truly elite: “Who dares, wins.” While this may seem somewhat cryptic from a civilian perspective, it makes all the sense in the world to those people who have gone to the edge of performance and pushed it just a little further.
To paraphrase former President Robert F. Kennedy, one of the distinguishing characteristics of those who achieve greatness is a willingness to fail greatly. Along those same lines, Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
What if I told you that fast failures are more valuable than quick wins? The faster you get your initial failures out of the way, the earlier you can start refining your big idea. When you aren’t afraid to fail, you are free to adapt, improvise, and overcome sooner rather than later.
When you become consumed with the ideal of early successes, you give up on your ability to learn from your mistakes and take things to the next level. If you don’t know how far you can push, you’ll never find out the full extent of your potential; accepting limitation without exploration will always keep your thinking “inside the box.”
Once you shed the irrational fear of failure, you can learn to plan for it, embrace it, and make it a part of your success. Learn to love the idea of failing fast.
Pushed to the Limit
Before entering the corporate world, I spent my formative years in the U.S. military; from my time as a young infantryman to my time as a Special Forces soldier, there was one maxim that remained constant when it came to preparation: tough, realistic training saves lives when it becomes time to execute in the real world. “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war.”
When I was a Green Beret, we always pushed every training iteration to the limit and ensured we faced the worst-case scenario every time, until we were confident that we had experienced every possible variation of failure.
You didn’t go home, you didn’t hit the showers, you didn’t relax until you were sure you and your team had been set up for success. When you’re not afraid to fail in training, you learn how to win when it matters.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saving nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing,” said Denis Waitley.
The time for finding failure isn’t right before your big launch, or even worse, when you are having your main stage debut. The fastest way to shed your credibility and set fire to your confidence is to fail when the world is watching you unveil your masterpiece.
When you test your big idea on a small scale, in your own house, your failures are for your team’s eyes only.
If you truly want to harness the power of small, private failures, you need to ensure that your team is empowered to talk plainly and bluntly about the realities of each phase of development. Sparing the feelings of people involved in a project isn’t kind; this is the cruelest form of negligence, as your dereliction of duty to the truth will expose everyone to the most savage attacks in the most public forums.
Start with big ideas and small, incremental tests. Put it out there, and see how it functions, and let your team tear it apart. Rebuild. Refine. Test it again. Don’t stop when you fail, learn from when and where you fail. Always scale upwards and plan to build your project in steps. If you aren’t afraid to fail, you’re ready to learn. Adapt, improvise, and overcome. That is how you go hard, fail fast, and destroy barriers. That’s the art of scaling your failures.
“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier,” said Gen. Colin Powell.
In “thought leadership” pieces, sports or war metaphors are a tired trope, one that I don’t feel the need to add to. Instead, we’re going to look at this from a research and development perspective. It doesn’t matter if you’re building a space rocket, launching an app, or just coming up with next year’s new business plan for your agency; I think there is something for you in this thought experiment.
Let’s say you’re designing the world’s fastest electric car. You know that right now, 257 miles per hour (mph) is the benchmark you need to meet to hold the title. If you want to truly dominate and disrupt the market, you need to be competing with the fastest production car in the world. That’s 278 mph, 21 mph faster than the fastest electric car that is already out there. However, let’s think bigger: Let’s start thinking about 300 mph.
Your prototype is proceeding allowing for minimal issues until you hit top speeds of 250 mph. You experience your first catastrophic failure: The hood comes loose and smashes through the windshield. No one is injured because rather than relying on luck, you have been ensuring that safety measures have been implemented along the way to ensure minimal risk from the most dangerous potential events.
Your engineers design a more heavy-duty latching and securing system, and you are able to hit 275 mph before the hood fails again. At this point, you’re already breaking all records for vehicles in this class; you have a winner on your hands. Yet, what about 300 mph?
Your engineers are telling you that the latches themselves are not the problem; a heavier version alone isn’t going to stop these catastrophic failures. Yet, the engine has the power to take you further and faster than anyone else.
Fortunately, you have cultivated a team that feels empowered to speak up and think so far outside the box that their ideas defy conventional logic. Data is analyzed, more tests are run to push the car. Suddenly, the hidden answer becomes obvious: It’s not the hood at all; it is the suspension.
Vibrations are literally shaking the vehicles so much that multiple points of failure are occurring at once. You don’t need to address five separate components; you need to address a single system. Now you’re ready to unveil a 300 mph electric car; you would have never gotten here if you were happy at 275.
Chris Erickson is a combat veteran and former Green Beret with extensive experience deployed to various locations across the world. He now works in the communications industry. You can follow him on Twitter @EricksonPrime.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.