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July 1st, 2018
This episode references Episode 72: Persevere vs. Pivot. If you’d like to fully understand the reference, please check out that episode first.
The decision to ‘pivot or persevere’ is perhaps a better way of looking at failure. The word failure, the concept, the event. It has so much negative flack associated with it.
Those who persevere, those with ‘grit’ are often lauded for their tenacity. But what about those who pivot? Who ask the difficult questions that result in a new perspective, and therefore: a new direction?
Perhaps when the given task was undertaken, those basic questions were not asked, such as: What is the reasonable timeframe that this will take? How long did it take others to accomplish this. Factor in Hofstadter’s Law. What are the tradeoffs required for this purpose. And so on and so forth. Are the potential results of this effort even something that I really want?
We start with the end in mind, often forgetting just how far away that end might be. How much time that gives for other things to get in the way.
But if something is important enough. It’s important not to pivot, especially when the temptation is greatest, that is, right after a particularly stinging failure towards some dreamed-of end. The failure hits us and we look around. To see who might have been watching. To see if there’s a way out. Away. A way.
But if something is important enough. The best way out out, is through.
If something is important enough. The proper way to fail is to reserve the emotion for the next charge, and examine the result like a scientist observing unexpected results. The proper way to fail is to see the result as feedback. You took an action, and the world gave you the result. This is an opportunity to iterate. To fine tune, to exercise that perseverance by making a small pivot.
If it’s important enough, the proper way to fail is to try again by doing something new.
But why is there the need to pivot? Why did the action, whatever it was, result in the outcome we imagined would happen?
Again, etymology comes in handy hear.
What does failure actually mean?
Failure comes from the latin fallere meaning ‘deceive’.
How does failure come from deception? Where is the deception when we experience failure?
One useful way of looking at this old root is by comparing our idea of the world before the failure and after the failure.
Before failure, we have a certain idea of the way things are, how reality operates, and what the outcome of our efforts will be.
If we take actions based on this mental map of the world and things don’t pan out the way we imagined, then it’s fair to say that our mental map of the world was inaccurate.
In some sense, it’s fair to say that we had deceived ourselves into thinking the world was a certain way.
Failure is merely the realization that we were deceiving ourselves. And now, with new feedback, we can have a more accurate vision of the world and how it works. And with this new perspective, we can pivot towards a new action, one more in tune with the revised vision of the world we now have.
In this way, to fail means to lift the self-deception we have. To fail again and again means to become less and less self-deceptive. To pivot again and again with new information. To fail over and over means to be more honest with one’s self. To fail is to come face to face with how limited our perspective and understanding of the world really is. But it also means to broaden that perspective and hone that understanding of the world and how it works.
P.S. It’s good to note Hofstadter’s Law: Everything takes longer than you think it will, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.