The Failure of Success

In the aftermath of the housing bubble it is apparent that one thing many seem to be afraid of, even ashamed of, and perhaps in denial of is failure. The world was in shock as it saw the failure of the banks, the failure of government in ensuring stability, and even the failure of the general public in not seeing it coming. It was a miserable moment. Some in power took it upon themselves to rid the world of this failure. The fear of further failure within themselves and others (partly induced by political rhetoric) led to the support of certain “solutions” that would supposedly stave off failure. Ironically, these “answers” were also very risky with high chances of failure, to the point where they [arguably] had the potential to make things worse than would have otherwise been the case.

Regardless, it is safe to say that as a world we are pretty damn scared of failing. Of course no one likes to fail or tries to fail on purpose, but is this fear of failure really prudent? After all, it is through the failure in trial and error that we learn so many things in the world from how to walk as babies to in many cases figuring out complex systems and machines. Economically, some of the most successful systems have also been those with the highest failure rates. Allowing mistakes to happen and letting people learn from them has been extremely beneficial- many capitalist models serve as great examples. Even the United States today in its quasi-capitalist state, has a business failure rate of over 10% per year- 1 out of 10 businesses in the country fails every year (according to economist Tim Harford whose research involves studying failure). And yet, despite the failure, the United States, as other relatively capitalist states in times past, has been more successful by many measures, including arguably the kingpin of utility, than states with greater central control and drastically lower failure rates.

The Internet is another fantastic and perhaps more lucid example of the undeniable success that can arise out of a stream of failures. The low barriers to entry and tremendous potential of the web results in millions of websites being made every year, most of which do fail and die. And yet despite that, the Internet continues to thrive and grow at amazing rates. New websites arise all the time (quite literally) and despite the competition many still prevail.

Should failure be completely eliminated, or even significantly minimized, the chances of success in these scenarios, whether they are personal, national, or otherwise, would most likely be much lower. Historically, such has been the case. Taking it to the extreme of reducing failure rates to 0 by taking no action whatsoever in any endeavor further strengthens this point because while there is no failure, there is also no success. At times, failure must be allowed in order to achieve success. It is not so much the opposite of success as it is the brother of success.

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