Accept and Expect Failure

Mark Tuminello’s latest blog post –

Mark Tuminello success and failureIn a recent article on Bloomberg View, Peter Orszag analyzed the value of failure, and makes the point that a fear of failure could actually be a detriment to the economy.  He cites two books that highlight failures that have resulted in great success.  ”Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein — Collossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe” by Mario Livio is about theories by great scientists that turned out to be wrong, and the progress we made because of the failure.  These aren’t examples of pure strings of success, but rather a series of risky chance-taking.

For evidence of a fear of failure in the United States, we can look at the rate of nonfatal fall injuries among children under 14, which have declined over 10% over the past 15 or so years.  Are we trying to safety-proof life?  Are we learning to risk less?  Could that translate to fewer risks at the corporate level, with companies less likely to risk the loss of jobs, for instance?  We know that risk in the financial sector can have disastrous effects.

In Megan McArdle’s “The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success, failure is depicted as an essential, inescapable part of what it means to be human.  If we start to believe that success means ‘no failures,’ we may prevent ourselves from meaningful successes and progress.  Her calling for the reinstatement of high monkey bars to allow kids to learn that there is sometimes a price for trying to achieve great heights – a broken bone.  This could seem a little heartless, subjecting our children to injury – but removing risk could actually hurt them more than a broken bone.

This could be playing a part in the lack of dynamism in the US economy.  We see fewer Americans moving across state borders.  The rates of job destruction is falling, as is job creation.  These numbers, most likely, mean that growth is going to be slower.  We can even see this with policy makers at the federal level, where the new tendency is to avoid risk as a rule.  Taking a major political risk is something rarely seen in Washington because of the lack of bipartisanship.  We have come to believe that true legislation, or in other words progress and growth, can only happen when one party controls the house, Senate, and the White House (the last major legislation to pass was the Affordable Care Act when Democrats were in control of all of these).

Winston Churchill once pointed out that both success and failure is never final.  Orszag builds on that by remarking that they’re not only never final, but also both essential.  We must therefore learn to expect and accept it.

from Mark Tuminello

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