Home > Creativity, Markets, Planning, Spirituality, Teaching, Uncertainty > Fear of failure? Failure is the state of nature; success is what’s surprising

Fear of failure? Failure is the state of nature; success is what’s surprising


Why do we fear failure?  Why do so many things fail?
What can we learn about failure that protects us from the shock of actual failure?
Why do we persist as a species knowing the odds are stacked against us so badly in just about anything we do?

I have been reading some commentary and advice about overcoming fear of failure, and wanted to comment on some ideas from an excellent book I am currently reading by Paul Ormerod “Why Most Things Fail”, a scholarly look at the normal phenomenon of why even robust successful, organizations, entities, and species fail on such a regular basis.

Ormerod draws some very interesting parallels between the rates of failure of dinosaur species and large human enterprises like corporations, and there seems to be some compelling parallels.  He makes the usual observations on the well known failure rates of new business enterprises as well.  From these many documented evidences of categories of failures, he begins to develop a sense of an Iron Law of Failure. He basically asserts that life is so variable and so complicated, and populated with so many organisms and enterprises that are already very lean and mean that the margin of error for success is extremely narrow. 

Couple that fragility with a healthy dose of environmental variability and you have a recipe for almost certain failure.

Our natural optimism and willingness to suspend disbelief allows us to focus on how an idea can succeed, whereas looking at the results of a category of enterprises would lead us to conclude that failure is normal and expected.

Rather than concluding that action is futile, this may actually help us get over fear of failure, since it is by far the most likely outcome. Free of that fear we can safely venture with our ego intact since failure seems to be an integral part of nature and not a personal shortcoming.

So take your pick: If you act you will probably fail, but if you don’t act, you will absolutely fail.  Where are the odds?

I find that a very freeing thought. To act without fear or worry, to do my best, and accept the outcome, and keep learning.  One day it will click.

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