…a word that gets used far too often as a motivator for change or some instructive path to success.
Lately, I’ve been surrounded by people talking about failure. They find comfort in quotes about failure being necessary to reach a goal. They seek permission to fail. They worry that they are not making or building anything of consequence. They lament that they are not achieving this or that plan.
Well, I won’t ever give someone blanket permission to fail, and I’ll argue that what we often call failure is sometimes not. On the point of making things, I say pick something and do it. Start something. Make something. Grow something. If it helps people in some way, even better. (I’ll like you more.) On the point of achieving this or that plan I ask, “Are you moving a plan forward?” It’s not even “are you moving THE plan forward?” Because THE plan often changes. (The fact that it shifts is usually what makes you think you are failing.)
Now…it is important to distinguish between a plan and the goal. The goal, that’s the thing you choose, and it doesn’t change. That is the “eyes on the prize”.
We have a goal for OriginalGreen: food justice and food security in South Los Angeles.
How we achieve this is a consistent strategy: create a healthy community food system, empower low-income food entrepreneurs, increase access to fresh food. But there have been a bunch of variables and incompletes along the way, including loss of land and lack of resources.
The thing is, I’ve never conceived of these incompletes as failure, even if some folks consider them the traditional definition: “lack of success”. They’ve been opportunities to learn and get the thing right. And that’s why I don’t buy into the vaunted “cult of failure” discussed all over the Net, in start-up culture and entrepreneurial philosophy.
Moving towards a goal and not reaching it the first, second, or even tenth leap, is not failure. It is moving towards a goal. It’s taking all the steps. Even those times you hit it out of the park, you still have to run the bases to validate the effort.
Now that home&community is the closest to opening the co-working homestead, is connected to 67,000 square feet of growing space, and has technological help for our open tools platform, I look back on getting here and see the incompletes, the almosts, the detours. Actually, I saw them pretty clearly when they were happening, but none seemed negative to me. They are simply the 100 things that won’t work and needed to be figured out.
So, no “embracing failure” or “failing forward” or “failing fast” for me, OriginalGreen or home&community. We’ll stick with trial and error, process, making, doing, collaborating, risking. Failure is too easy, and it doesn’t get people fed.
As always, the garden and farm offer a great metaphor for failure and risk. A garden is the ultimate laboratory for goal-seeking and learning from mistakes. You don’t fail in the garden; you don’t founder on the farm. You learn and then you keep growing.