Can we get pragmatic about failure?

Why is failure celebrated by some and disdained by others? Entrepreneurs and big company executives alike are holding their failures up in celebration. I recently read about a company that fires a celebratory cannon when they have a project that failed. Still, similar startups and institutions suggest failure is a fast path to bankruptcy.

Why failure is good:

  • It teaches the failed what didn’t work
  • It discourages the weak willed from pursing what they aren’t passionate about
  • If success is eventually achieved, it puts the accomplished in more rarified company (akin to the idiom “anything worth having is worth working hard for”)

Why failure is bad:

  • It doesn’t offer many direct benefits (no revenue, no glory)
  • It derails momentum
  • If public, it can damage one’s reputation

Fast failure is good because we don’t invest as much in something that doesn’t work; fear of failure is bad because we don’t take chances; failure is good because it forces us to be better; and failure is bad if we don’t learn from it.

My question comes from rhetorical perspectives: is there a better way to contextualize our efforts besides through the lens of failure? The theme I see in all of these messages is growth. Growth involves learning, self-awareness, pride, momentum, and reward. Perhaps instead of focusing on short-comings, we can look forward into how we are growing and what that will do for us in the future.

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