Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Is a famous line from Samuel Beckett’s penultimate novel Worstward Ho.
Say a body. Where none. No mind. Where none. That at least. A place. Where none. For the body. To be in. Move in. Out of. Back into. No. No out. No back. Only in. Stay in. On in. Still.
I’ll say there’s a body (where there isn’t one). I won’t say there’s a mind (where there isn’t one). That at least is true. I’ll say there’s a place (where there isn’t one) for the body: for it to be in and move in, and to move out of and move back into again. No: the body doesn’t move out or move back. It stays in, it stays on in – unmoving.
All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Everything is as it was of old. There’s never been anything else. I’ve never tried anything else, never failed at anything else. But it doesn’t matter: I’ll try again, I’ll fail again. I’ll fail better than I did before.
Now, I suspect that most of us didn’t know that, and haven’t read it. It’s unreadable to most people. But you’ve probably seen it quoted. I see it most weeks on Twitter. The Twitterati love an aphorism. But when I saw it this week it was next to a tweet on G4S and their trouble with the Olympics, which set me thinking about failure, and our tolerance of it.
Where we live, in the world of bidding for large contracts, failure is a reality. Every large bidding organisation will have a success rate they are happy with, and hence a failure rate they are happy with. But none of them ever quoted Samuel Beckett to their people.
In fact, if I could summarise how these organisations feel, they are closest to workaholic US President Lyndon Johnson, who was fond of saying to his staff,
Have we done everything?
Or put it another way, they play the percentages. And that’s what we do. We don’t generally advise risky strategies because that’s not what works most often. We don’t work for people who say, “I’m going for broke on this with a wild idea that may or may not work.”
Hugely successful people tend to subscribe to the idea that they are unique geniuses. But they would wouldn’t they. If you want to hear a really thoughtful take on this see Michael Lewis.
So, if you meet someone from G4S and tell them to “fail better” I would advise ducking immediately after. It is easy for a cranky Irish novelist, already a literary legend, to tell us to fail better.
It is easy for the billionaire Henry Ford to say,
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.
Ford did have failures before he became what we know him as, but how tolerant of failure is your boss?
Few of us are Henry Ford. Most of us work for others.
One of the most powerful human biases is to see my failure as bad luck and yours as stupidity…
It is human to post-rationalise success. Of course billionaires think they have something to tell the rest of us. But it may not help you to listen.
Personally I like Michael Jordan’s quote,
I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.
Or put it another way,
Have you done everything?