Mistakes, I’ve made a few [thousand], but then again too many to take personally.
– not Frank Sinatra

There was a little twitter conversation this morning around the notion of failing, and “failing fast” and the like:

Dave Nicolette wrote an amusing and pointed article on the topic, so check that out as well. He expresses my viewpoint quite well, but in the spirit of failing fast, here are some more thoughts.

I can’t do that … yet

Having been raised half Irish and some fraction Catholic, I have plenty of negative, lack-focused, guilty feelings ready to help me out whenever I need some, but I choose to go another way. One of my little tricks is that whenever I hear myself saying “I can’t …”, I always make a point of adding the word “yet”. “I can’t figure this out … YET”. This is a silly little thing to do, but I figure why should I badmouth myself? I can easily find other people to do that for me.

I feel similarly about the notion that I’ve failed: it has a sense of finality that I do not care for. Now certainly the proponents of “failing fast” and the “failure bow” do not intend for the failure to be final. They intend for us to observe the result wasn’t what we hoped for, acknowledge our part in it, think about it, learn, choose new things to do, and so on.

Observing, acknowledging, thinking, learning: these are all good things. And I note that to the extent that they have to do with accepting or embracing failure at all, they seem to want to get rid of it quickly. So I’m saying, if you don’t want the failure logo on your jacket, don’t wear the jacket. Don’t even accept the jacket.

Thus my responses to the thread, cleaned up a little, go like this:

I am more inclined toward “Well, THAT didn’t work”, rather than “I failed”. I chose, acted, and results occurred. Sometimes, in circumstances apparently exactly the same, different results would surely have occurred. This time, I chose X. Y happened. Tomorrow I might choose X again. I might not.

We have to recognize our results. Maybe own them, I’m not sure. BE them? Surely not.

I am a computer programmer. (Should I stop saying “I am” there?) Be that as it may, I have programmed computers since 1961, and the last time I was programming was this morning. The last time I made a programming mistake was … this morning. Programming, I like to say, is a process of repeatedly making mistakes and keeping the ones you like. If I were to call myself a failure every time I made a programming mistake, it’d be hard to go on. I do, however, consider everything like what happened this morning to be a mistake. If I ship it, I call it a defect, not a bug. Even if I haven’t shipped it, but I’ve saved it and discover it later, I call it a defect.

Have I failed? No. I just haven’t succeeded as much as I’d like … yet.

It seems to me that all this “fail fast” and “failure bow” stuff is a way of avoiding feeling like a Failure just because you’ve failed. My concern with that is that most of the people who pay you money do not want you to fail, fast or slow, with or without taking a bow. In fact, unless you’re really b__-s____ crazy, you don’t want to fail.

My strategy is simple: I make mistakes, lots of them. But I don’t fail, I just make a lot of mistakes. As such, I’m never a Failure. It works for me.

You? You should do what you want.