Failure is necessary. Without it, we cannot hope to achieve the things that others have not.

But school teaches us to be afraid of failure--afraid to fail a test, a class, fail out of school. I believe this to be one of the great disservices of the modern school system. Learning to fail is imperative.

And while failure is necessary, failing personally isn't the only way to learn. Ideally, you want to learn from other people's failures whenever possible. This is why I constantly advocate reading, it's the cheapest way to learn.

But sometimes what you're trying to do hasn't been attempted before. In these cases you must set out on your own.

"...nine times out of ten, you're going to fail. But every once in a while, you'll hit a home run that in business terms is more like 1,000 runs. Given a ten percent chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time."

- Jeff Bezos

Like Bezos said, nine times out of ten you will fail.

So when is failure okay?

  1. Failure is okay when you're trying something you can't easily learn from others (first try to learn from other people whenever possible, answers are just a Google search away).

  2. Failure is okay when you are experimenting with an idea that is highly uncertain, but if successful, can lead to an exponential return.

  3. Failure is okay when your experiments are fast and cheap.

When is a failure not okay?

  1. Failure is not okay when it's easy to learn the same lesson from those around you.

  2. Failure is not okay when you've failed at the same thing multiple times. Remember, the most important thing about failing is learning from your failures.

  3. Failure is not okay when your experiments are expensive and take a long time to produce results.

Sharing Our Failures

The only way we all improve and learn from failure is if we share these failures. There's no shame in failing. But if you learn nothing, failing is a waste. So my co-founder and I have been thinking of new ways to encourage sharing our failures with the team at our company, Drift. We now record our biggest failures from each quarter and share these videos with the entire team. This is a practice I encourage you to adopt at the beginning of each quarter--a practice of reflection. Without it, you'll still most definitely fail, but you'll also fail to learn anything.

And that's the biggest failure of all.