The Value of Failure

November 27th, 2014

A friend recently shared a verse from Antonio Machado’s lovely poem, Last Night As I Was Sleeping:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

As a useful cultural concept, Failure” has failed. It needs some rebranding. The popular assumption of it as a definite terminus instead of a definitive turning point doesn’t help people make the most of their experiences. Implicit to science’s methodical process of hypothesis-testing and experimentation. For the dedicated, it’s just a misguided exploratory step on the rough and winding path of knowledge – and only a misstep if one quits exploring. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, remarked the Chinese Taoist sage, Lao Tzu.

Failure’s value for achieving progress has always been appreciated by pioneers. Only recently has it been recognized by the mainstream press, with numerous articles appearing lately about its value in technology development. A few weeks ago, I posted Is Accident the Illegitimate Father of Invention? It was, shall we say, mere foreplay to the couple of longer New York Times articles on the kind of blind groping that precedes the climax of satisfying innovation.

Welcome to the Failure Age! By Adam Davidson

Wearing Your Failures on Your Sleeve by Claire Martin