The Value of Failure

I have two iconic images which depict failure in a positive light.

  1. A scene from the movie Meet the Robinsons: The protagonist has just had an experiment blow up in his face and as he dejectedly faced his family he is surprised to find them celebrating his failure with enthusiasm usually saved for birthdays. They explained that failure was the sure sign you're getting closer to the solution.
  2. One of my favorite demotivational posters: A ship is sinking, bow up and two thirds in the water. Caption reads - “MISTAKES: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”

Both of these cultural ditties push the one aspect of failure which makes it an important part of our lives ... it’s the “lessoned learned” which informs us of what NOT to do ... it’s the Feddback Loop into our lives, allowing us to eventually succeed.

As Systems Engineers we face failures every time we take our product in the evaluation phase of its development cycle. Will it meet the requirements, both technical and operational? And of course we’re the ones who need to evaluate the impact these failures will have on the overall project. The cost, schedule and performance issues must be addressed in a creative and resourceful way. Such is the burden and responsibility of the Systems Engineer.

Of course failures come in may sizes. Small ones from your test events that can be worked off as a “lien” against the product acceptance. Or the large failures which occur after the product has been deployed and during its operation. Lives and the environment can be ruined as a result. Just look at BP oil spill in the gulf  . But no matter the size or enormity of the failure it’s still there as a “warning.” Don’t make the same mistake, learn from the lesson, embrace the failure as a part of the price to be paid towards the road of a positive outcome. It’s OK to fail, just don’t let it stop you from going forward.