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Posted on: Thursday, 13 August 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Builders Fail --- All The Time.

"Let us talk about any one task or project which you consider to be your biggest failure" --- I ask a veteran programmer who; for the purposes of this post; we shall refer to as Fred.

Fred stares at me with questioning eyes wide open; as if I just asked him the famous-inappropriate-are-you-a-virgin-question.

Throughout the interview Fred takes great pride and speaks at length when asked to discuss his success stories but but behaves like he has been put on spot and asked things he cannot answer when asked about his failures.

After taking over a few hundred interviews and observing countless genuine builders at work if there one thing I have learnt about genuine builders who make small or big dents in our universe; it is that they  --- fail.

They fail all the time.

Genuine builders do not think of themselves as seriously kick-ass-rock-stars who can churn out zero defect code every time they are asked to. Most genuine builders indulge in decent amount of soul-searching; and have some a decent level of self loathing for themselves.

Most genuine builders aren't ashamed to openly discuss; analyze and learn from their failures.

If there is one video that describes the idea of flaunting your failures openly with class and glamour; it is the Nike-Commercial on Failure:

"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan

If you haven't clicked on the link of the video you should.

As 'grown-ups' our fear of failure and the tendency to see it as a negative experience comes from the sheepish desire of being 'safe' and mediocre.

Michael Hunter; takes the remarkable lesser walked path. He nudges professionals around the world and encourages them to fail early and fail often. He explains:

If you're lucky, however, your family encourages you to fail early and often. If you're really lucky your teachers do as well. It takes a lot of courage to fight against this, but the rewards are great. Learning doesn't happen from failure itself but rather from analyzing the failure, making a change, and then trying again.

Over time this gives you a deep understanding of the problem domain (be that programming or combining colors or whatever) - you are learning.

Exercising your brain is good in its own right ("That which is not exercised atrophies", my trainer likes to say), plus this knowledge improves your chances at functioning successfully in new situations.

Has it been a very long time since you last failed?

If you answered that question with a 'yes' --- you need to find a problem bigger than what you are currently working on.

Get out of the boring territory of 'safe' --- fail like a child and learn like one; dear reader.

I wish you good luck.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.