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Aug 26th, 2021 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

On Success and Failure

You heard me talk about my disdain for the word “failure” before (for example, here and here).

Don Norman, author of the wonderful book “The Design of Everyday Things”, wrote this about failure:

We need to remove the word failure from our vocabulary, replacing it instead with learning experience. To fail is to learn: we learn more from our failures than from our successes. With success, sure, we are pleased, but we often have no idea why we succeeded. With failure, it is often possible to figure out why, to ensure that it will never happen again.

There truly is little to add — but I do want to draw your attention to the second from last sentence:

With success, sure, we are pleased, but we often have no idea why we succeeded.

Out of experience, I can just add a huge exclamation mark to this insight. All too often, I have asked myself what exactly it was which made a particular project successful. And all too often the answer is foggy at best. We tend to point to specific things we did — overestimating our contribution and neglecting such factors as timing, external factors we have little control over (personally I like to use the German concept of Gestalt to describe those), as well as plain luck.

Focus on increasing your learning by reducing the time, energy, effort, and resources it takes to try something out.

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