Seth Godin and Heath Brothers: Failure is a key ingredient to success

Seth Godin blog picture

I’ve been reading a lot of Seth Godin lately.  He’s a great source to read when taking any type of risk on any type of venture.  Here’s a short youtube video that succinctly sums up his philosophy.

Essentially, his recipe is:

Step 1)  Do it.
Step 2)  Fail.
Step 3)  Learn.
Step 4)  Make appropriate adjustments.
Step 5)  Try again.
Step 6)  Repeat Steps 1 through 5 until you…
Step 7)  Succeed.

Yes, this advice is simple and banal, and it makes the cynic in all of us cringe. “Surely it’s more complicated than this,” we tell ourselves, “I don’t want to put all of my time and hard work into a venture just to have it fail.  Let’s look into it more before we rashly jump in.”  Until, before you know it, you’re 75 and you haven’t ‘jumped into’ anything because you’ve always managed to talk yourself out of it.  Ah, yes, we’re all familiar with that most insidious of human tendencies: rationalization.

I think the main reason most people quit either before or after Step 1 is that, for some reason, we have this bizarre expectation that we need to go straight from Step 1 to Step 7, skipping all of the hardship and toil in between.  We think that enough background research and initial preparation will enable us to lay out a perfectly straight path to success before we even start.  But as Seth Godin points out:

I don’t think the right question is, “is the path perfect?”

It’s probably, “Is this somewhere I’d like to go?”

If you always ask yourself the former question before you start a new venture, launch day will never come because any worthwhile venture involves unknowns. A perfect path does not exist for any venture worth doing.

In contrast, the latter question leaves the possibility of failure — or at least imperfection — wide open.  In a similar vein, Dan and Chip Heath, in their awesome book Switch, write that in order to prevent us from quitting when we encounter failure, we need to create “the expectation of failure.”  That is, before the launch of any tough and risky project, we must disabuse ourselves of the foolish notion that Step 7 directly follows Step 1, and instead we must realize that,

“[w]e will struggle, we will fail, we will be knocked down — but throughout, we’ll get better, and we’ll succeed in the end. …[P]eople will persevere only if they perceive falling down as learning rather than as failing.”

To slightly alter a phrase from Switch: “success isn’t an event; it’s a process.”  Now get started.  And expect to fail.  You’ll be surprised to find that it’s actually kind of liberating.

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Inaugural Post

The byline of my blog is “learning by doing.”  After spending the majority of my life as an obedient pupil mindlessly advancing through the formal education system, being forced to read a multitude of boring textbooks and listen to myriad boring professors, I’ve come to realize that nothing spurs actual learning like doing.  I guess the motivation behind this blog can be broken down into three — erm — sub-motivations:

  1. To share my successes and failures (and there will be more failures than successes) as I attempt to learn new concepts, acquire new skills, and master new technologies.
  2. To demonstrate that by setting a goal of constant skill acquisition through doing everybody can take control of their own career path and ultimately obtain their dream job (without going into crippling student loan debt).
  3. To show that formal education is much less effective than disciplined self-education.

All three of these sub-motivations involve huge, intimidating topics like Fear of Failure, Goal-Setting, Taking Responsibility for Your Own Destiny, Growing Up, Self-Discipline, the whole Passion vs. Practicality debate when it comes to making Career Choices, as well as the Formal Education vs. Self-Education debate.

Being 23 and fresh out of  university, these topics fascinate me because I’m currently living through them.  Until now I’ve mostly mulled through these topics on my own, up there in the ol’ brain.  But, seeing as how every human being on the planet has to, at one point in their life, stumble through this time (usually in their early twenties), I thought, “Hey, why not talk about it.”  I look forward to the discussion.  I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I do.