A video has been making the rounds of robots leaping and jumping easily from one obstacle to another. We prefer the tempering view of the many fails the robots endured, harsh face-first crashes that are as clumsy as a knocked-out boxer hitting the mat. They are strangely painful to watch.

But they’re an example of the failures essential to the creation of anything good: the constant falling and learning and correcting in tiny increments, step-by-step, until the vision is successful, consistently doing what it’s supposed. Everything we engage — cars, clothes, websites, cell phones, vacuum cleaners, OURSELVES — are the product of a multitude of hidden failures that were learned from and corrected.

There are lots of quotes about about “failing well”, and “failing forward”. We’ve always loved Samual Becket’s famous quote though he didn’t mean it as optimistically as it reads taken out of context.

From Worstward Ho by Samual Beckett

We also love this view, from Oprah:

I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.

Which reminds us how often pleasure-in-the-process is ignored in judging whether something is successful — or even worthy of being — or not.

The other thing about failure is that it has much to do with what the goal is, how we define success. In our experience, that definition can change as the initial idea evolves. Implementing an idea can lead to a completely different understanding than we had going into it. If you listen to that piece of information and switch gears or abandon the original idea, is THAT a fail? In some people’s eyes, for sure.

There’s so much pressure to be successful, you might say we night to fight for the right to fail and make mistakes and follow the paths they take us. We like to employ Brian Eno’s view that we saw written on one of his Oblique Strategies cards years ago:

Sally Schneider

Mistakes are portals…

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