Most of us are afraid of failure. The time and effort wasted, the humiliation, the headaches -- it's just too much. Most of all, what if our failure confirms our worst fear: that we're not good enough.
As we grow older, fear of failure becomes more and more real. Eventually, not trying anything new seems like a better option because we'd rather not know the limit of our capabilities.
Failing in any area of life can be terrifying when you look at it that way. But recently, I've been looking at failure from a different perspective. It's one that a lot of entrepreneurs and innovative companies use to test out new ideas.
I call it the "fish egg" approach to failing. Here's how it works.
Don't be afraid to fail, many times.
Big mistakes can be costly. After all, you don't want to pour all your time into an idea that doesn't work, or lose your savings in a bad investment. Failures of these magnitudes can be hard, if not impossible, to recover from.
Instead, approach failure by using lots of little tests. Think of your experiments like the survival strategy of the salmon. In the winter, a female salmon finds a gravel bed in clear water to lay up to 5,000 eggs. Of those thousands of eggs, some aren't fertilized, a few get washed away, while others are covered in dirt erosion.
Still, most of the eggs hatch into alevins and start off in a small stream. Some are eaten or die of weakness before. After about a year, the salmon move downstream for more food and space before traveling to sea.
The fish then make the big trek to the ocean. Along the way, hundreds are fished up, eaten by bigger fish, or die from sickness and pollution. The ones that survive remain in the ocean until they become healthy and strong adults.
After awhile, the salmon fight against the currents to return to the tiny stream where they were born. A number of them die of exhaustion along the way. Out of the thousands of eggs in the stream, less than a hundred salmon make it back to their place of birth to continue the cycle of life.
The chances of an egg growing into an adult salmon are less than 1 percent. But the more eggs a salmon lays, the higher the probability that its children will live long enough to return to its birthplace.
Try lots of ideas, and pick the one that lasts.
In a lot of ways, failure works the same way as salmon eggs. Most times we attempt something, things don't pan out the way we want. But when you test out a lot of ideas and concepts on a small scale, trying and failing becomes more like an experiment.
A situation in which I use the "fish egg" approach is when writing. On a given day, I'll have at least a dozen ideas for what sorts of topics I can write about. I jot down any ideas that come to mind, and then expand upon them.
Some of the more interesting ideas are fleshed out into outlines. Out of those outlines, some ideas show more promise than others. After outlining some ideas, it becomes clear as to which ones are not compelling enough to become full articles. But, out of the dozens of ideas and topics I brainstorm, a couple eventually turn into full-length pieces.
The "fish egg" approach can be used in other ways. For instance, coming up with a good idea is only the first step to building a business. When you generate numerous ideas and explore them thoroughly -- talking to friends, researching market needs, and looking at key players in the space -- you can start to separate out the ideas that seemed promising in the beginning from the true gems.
Instead of looking at failure as a disappointment, it's better to think of it as a step in your progress towards success. Most of your ideas and thoughts won't get past the early stages. Some will have varying progress, but then fall short of expectations. But a few manage to go the entire journey and make everything worth the effort.