There's a lot of buzz about failure. Writers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs extol the virtues of failing fast. Or they offer to list the many benefits of failure as feedback. These admonitions help leaders respond to failure, extract lessons, and pivot your product or business model accordingly. But they also come with a hidden danger. If you're wrong about failure, you won't learn anything.
And you're probably wrong about failure.
I recently interviewed Srinivas Rao, founder of the successful podcast Unmistakeable Creative, and we discussed the odd phenomenon that when most people declare they've failed at something, they actually haven't. They just quit.
"There's a big difference between failing and quitting, but it's easy to confuse the two because they seem very similar," Rao says. "A lot of people quit when things get harder, the results aren't what they want them to be instantly, and I see this over and over and over again. People give something a year, maybe 90 days and they're like 'yeah this isn't working.'"
Part of what contributes to this misunderstanding is our current, now-focused culture. We're used to seeing results quickly, and when that doesn't happen we think we've failed. "We live in a world that moves at such a fast pace that everybody wants to be successful yesterday," Rao says. "Everybody wants fame and fortune yesterday, and as you well know, even after you supposedly arrive at this moment of arrival that you've been anticipating your entire career, [...] the work just continues, and the level gets harder. It gets higher, and you know, you still have to persist."
The more dangerous part of this misunderstanding, however, might be that we celebrate failure so much. If failing fast is a virtue, then it's no surprise that we rush to declare things a failure so we can quit and try something totally new. And we do this instead of pivoting, iterating, and continuing to push that same idea. It's one thing to have a very real failure: no one buys you're product, you're investors pull out, you're fired. It's a wholly other situation to merely be disappointed with your results so far.
How do you know when you're actually failed? A simple test: when there's nothing more you can do, you've failed. If you experience a setback, and you can find away around it or though it, you haven't failed. You may just think you have. Don't quit and call it failure, just keep pushing.