EppsNet Archive: Failure

10 Reasons Why Failure is Good, Except When It’s Bad

11 Jul 2017 /
 Sharon Christa McAuliffe,  Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. Resnik, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Ronald E. McNair, Mike J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka. Image credit: NASA

Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. Resnik, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Ronald E. McNair, Mike J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka. Image credit: NASA

Once upon a time there was a startup, and the president of this startup, like a lot of people in the early part of the 21st century, celebrated failure — as a learning tool and as a precursor to success.

He encouraged employees to celebrate failures on the company Slack channel, using the hashtag #fail.

Legend has it that the president called one employee on the carpet for suggesting on the Slack channel that it doesn’t make sense to celebrate failure without factoring in the cost of failure.

That is simply a truism, is it not? Obviously the value of failure can be swamped out by the cost, e.g.,

Blew up 7 astronauts but learned that O-rings don’t function in sub-freezing temperatures. #fail

You can think of other examples yourself. You can probably also think of people and/or companies for whom failure was merely a precursor to more failure.

Working for startups is risky, but the president of this startup told all the employees that he would give them a six-month heads-up if the company were ever on track to run out of money.

Then one day, due to the failure to retain a key client, the staff was cut to around 15 people (there were close to 100 at one time) with zero notice and a one week’s severance check.

You could make a case that the “six-month” promise didn’t apply because the company didn’t actually “run out of money,” but most people felt that the spirit of the promise, if not the letter, had been violated.

Was this a failure to be celebrated? It probably depends from which side of the exit door you’re looking at it. Sometimes a pivot looks a lot like an implosion.

Was it celebrated with a #fail hashtag in the company Slack channel? I don’t know.

Lost our key client. Laid off all developers but kept the company chef. #fail

This is a fable and like all fables it has a moral: Failure is good, except when it’s bad.

Resemblance to persons or companies living or dead would be a coincidence.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Is Dignity an Obstacle to Success?

27 May 2015 /

Sometimes life requires that we take jobs below our station until we learn skills, offer apologies even when we are wronged, suck-up to power when necessary, work long hours when we “deserve” some rest, risk embarrassment in front of witnesses, risk failure and humiliation, and get rejected by the people we hope to love. In that sort of game, the player unburdened with human dignity usually wins.


One Piece of Advice From T. Boone Pickens

7 Jul 2014 /
T. Boone Pickens

If I had to single out one piece of advice that’s guided me through life, most likely it would be from my grandmother, Nellie Molonson. She always made a point of making sure I understood that on the road to success, there’s no point in blaming others when you fail.

Here’s how she put it: “Sonny, I don’t care who you are. Some day you’re going to have to sit on your own bottom.” After more than half a century in the energy business, her advice has proven itself to be spot-on time and time again. My failures? I never have any doubt whom they can be traced back to. My successes? Most likely the same guy.

— T. Boone Pickens

Forget mistakes, forget failures, forget everything, except what you’re going to do now and do it. Today is your lucky day. — Will Durant


Why Do (Some) Smart Kids Fail?

29 Mar 2014 /
Bored of Education

A woman is telling me about her two sons . . . they’ve grown up to be fine young men, she says. It’s disappointing, of course, that neither of them managed to finish high school but it was really unavoidable because the older boy was much smarter than his peers and so he was always bored and academically unengaged and finally dropped out completely, and the younger boy just imitated whatever the older boy did.

I’ve heard this type of woulda-coulda-shoulda before and I have to admit I’ve never been totally receptive to it: this happened . . . then that happened . . . the kid did such-and-such . . .

It sounds very passive. Parents aren’t supposed to be passive observers. There are intervention points every day. If things aren’t going in the right direction, you do something to take them in a different direction.

Look in any classroom in America . . . you’ll see kids with a range of abilities. Are you telling me that all of the smartest kids are destined to fail because they’re smart? That because they’re smart, they have no option but to get bored and check out and fail?

Lots of smart kids do very well in school . . . they get good grades and test scores and they go to good colleges. What is the difference between those kids and the kids who get bored and check out and fail?

Think about it . . .


Great Moments in Government Regulation

23 Aug 2012 /

To paraphrase President Obama:

Look, if you’ve been unsuccessful, you didn’t get there on your own. If you were unsuccessful at opening or operating a small business, some government official along the line probably contributed to your failure. There was an overzealous civil servant somewhere who might have stood in your way with unreasonable regulations that are part of our American system of anti-business red tape that allowed you to not thrive. Taxpayers invested in roads and bridges, but you might have faced city council members who wouldn’t allow you to use them. If you’ve been forced to close a business – it’s often the case that you didn’t do that on your own. Somebody else made that business closing happen or prevented it from opening in the first place. You can thank the bureaucratic tyrants of the nanny state.


“Am I a Success or Failure?” Is Not a Very Useful Question

19 Feb 2012 /

To be overly preoccupied with the future is to be inattentive toward the present where learning and growth take place. To walk around asking, “am I a success or a failure” is a silly question in the sense that the closest you can come to answer is to say, everyone is both a success and a failure.


My Family’s Guide to Failure

19 Dec 2010 /

At a recent family gathering, someone whom I won’t name here recommended to my son, a high school senior, that he start looking for a community college to attend for a couple of years before transferring to a four-year school.

“That’s a good idea,” I said. “Do you have any more good ideas? Maybe he should punch himself in the face really hard.”

One of the things I love about my boy is that when he does something, he puts his heart into it. He takes on the risk of failure.

The safe approach — and historically the preferred method in my family — is to do things indifferently, fail, then announce that you weren’t really trying and that you could have succeeded if you’d wanted to.”

We have family members who — despite, to my knowledge, having never done or said an intelligent thing in their lives — never seem to lose their reputation as untapped geniuses who could have done great things if they’d ever set their mind to it.

“You apparently haven’t been paying attention the last 17 years,” I continued. “You’re not there every night when he’s up late working on honors classes and AP classes, trying to accomplish the goals that he’s set for himself, which as far as I know, don’t include community college. Why don’t you ask him if he wants to go to community college? Or is that not relevant to your recommendation?”

“Community college is a lot less expensive and he’ll take the same classes the first two years anyway.”

“They’re really not the same classes,” I said. “You have to teach a class to the level of the students.

“If you’re teaching a general ed class at a highly selective university where every kid came out of high school with a 4.3 GPA and 10 AP classes under their belt, then you can conduct the class at a very challenging level and expect that the kids will get it.

“If you’re teaching the ‘same’ class at a community college, where the only prerequisites for being there are opposable thumbs and a pulse, then you’re going to have to dumb it way, way down.

“Throw in the fact that the students will add no value to the teacher’s ideas, no one will ask an interesting question and no one will answer a question with an interesting answer and you’ll find that the ‘same’ classes are not the same classes at all.”

To summarize the Epps Family Guide to Failure:

  • Aim low.
  • Revel in mediocrity.
  • Hide your light under a bushel.
  • Hide it under a bushel of idiots at the local community college.

Middle Management

5 Oct 2010 /

In most failing projects, there are a few people at the top of the organization who think they are in trouble, lots of people at the bottom who know they are in trouble, and a bunch of worried middle managers trying to keep those at the top from talking to those at the bottom.

— Ken Orr

Failure is an Orphan

1 Feb 2009 /

For centuries, historians have debated whether history is propelled by Great Men (and Women), human forces of nature who bend events and systems to their will, or by vast impersonal forces (communism, capitalism, globalization) that render even the most powerful of us a mere reed basket floating in a massive river. There’s no session on the subject at the World Economic Forum in Davos. But at least with regard to finance and business, the consensus seems to be clear: Success is the work of Great Men and Great Women, while failure can be pinned on the system.