Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.

Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success. – Charles F. Kettering

"Cookie Fail! Quick, eat the evidence!" So what did we learn from this? We learned that mistakes can be very tasty!

What does that mean?
This is another Twitter-friendly shortened quote. The full quote is : “Every great improvement has come after repeated failures. Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success. 

To me, this is another fundamental truth of life. Only the most trivial of endeavors (or the luckiest) work perfectly the first time. You have to work to get it right. Each time, you try something a little different, and see if it gets better or worse, make another adjustment and observe again.

To me, this applies to almost everything we do or have done. Learning to crawl. Learning to walk. Learning to talk. Learning to cook (ask me about the time I burned water, yes really!). Learning to ride a bicycle. Learning to drive a car. Learning a foreign language. Learning to solve math problems. You could probably add a few things to this list.

Why are failure and success important?
To be brutally honest, there is no such thing as failure, nor is there such a thing as success. There are simply events that occur. If they are more favorable, we apply the label of “success” to them. To the rest, we apply the label “failure.” And, of course, what one person calls a success, others might call a failure, and vice-versa.

However, for the purposes of discussing this quote, we will use the term failure to mean an event that ends in a less than satisfactory result. Once we notice that the result wasn’t what we had hoped for, we should start by asking why (or why not). Then we should probably attempt to determine what went wrong (or at least develop a theory) and come up with a plan to try to get a better result.

The process described in the paragraph above is what this quote is all about. I don’t expect things to go very well the first time I try something. I expect something to go wrong. I usually have set some time aside in the schedule for these minor setbacks, and press forward as soon as possible.

Where can I apply this in my life?
Since I feel I have made the case that this saying applies to almost every non-trivial event in our lives, this saying applies to almost everything we do. All day, every day. Day in, and day out. To me, it’s more about the attitude than any specific skill, so that’s where we’ll go with this.

To me, the only failure is the failure to learn. Put another way, I only fail at something if I fail to learn a lesson from the event. Those wonderful sticky notes? They were a failure. The lab rats were trying to come up with a very powerful adhesive, but got the glue for sticky notes instead. Rather than write it off as a failure, they learned that it could be quite useful, and worked hard to make it a product line at their company.

One of the most famous “fail forward towards success” stories is that of Thomas Edison and the light bulb. He kept records of all the things that didn’t work, but kept at it and eventually they (he and his team) cracked the problem. It might seem obvious to us, but they were just stumbling around in the dark. (Yes, I really said that.)

Keep trying to learn something each time you do something. Perhaps you would label it a failure, or perhaps label it a success. Even with a success, you can probably find a way to improve some aspect of the process. Some call it C.A.N.I. (alternately C.A.N.E.I. – Constant And Never-ending Improvement), others call it Kaizen, but both are focused on always learning something, and making it better.

As long as we observe the results of our attempts, and use our intelligence and courage (to figure out why it didn’t go the way we hoped & make adjustments, and to persevere & continue to adjust and try and adjust and try), we will eventually get to where we want to go, and probably a little bit farther.

What would you do right now if you knew you couldn’t fail? If your possible outcomes were “great” and “next time, I’ll try something a little different”? Does the elimination of FAILURE as a word change your attitude towards trying? I hope so.

From: Twitter, @GreatestQuotes
confirmed at : (about a quarter of the way down)
Photo by xikita


About philosiblog

I am a thinker, who is spending some time examining those short twitter quotes in greater detail on my blog.
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One Response to Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.

  1. philosiblog says:

    Burning water: a true story. Roughly two decades ago, I set a pot of water to boil in preparation for cooking some hot dogs. I stepped away and got caught up doing other things. About 20 min later, I noticed a nasty smell. All of the H2O had boiled off, leaving behind all the nasty stuff that you don’t normally notice in your water. To this day, the pan STILL has the spiral pattern of an electric heating element etched into both the bottom of the pan, and the inside of the pan. It’s a less-than-subtle reminder that it is possible to burn water, if you have sufficient talent.

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