Archive for November 1, 2019


Yesterday we looked at failing like a scientist and today I need to reiterate it. A scientist who fears failure is doomed. Scientists’ lives depend on failure. One of the great minds of science, Albert Einstein once said, “A problem will never be solved using the same level of thinking it took to create it.” Further he said the more famous, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” The essence of both sayings is the same, to solve our problems, we have to try new and different things, otherwise a new old saying will come to bear, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” Problems are almost exclusively solved by trying something new.

Of course, as we venture into uncharted territory, the risk of failure looms even larger than usual. The scientist is okay with this, because failure is a mighty tool in his arsenal. He tries something knowing the odds of failure in the first attempt, and sometimes the second and third, and occasionally the thousandth, are probably quite high. Rather than fearing the failure, he takes notes of what worked and what didn’t and then changes the variables until he arrives at success. Even if success never comes, much has been learned that will guide him to another idea and a better solution. That’s the power of failure. It allows us to learn from our mistakes, and move toward solving the problem before us. I call it failing forward and I believe it is essential not just for scientists, but for all of us, especially those with a creative bent.

Consider a baby. He doesn’t try walking once and then give up. Nor do we who love him say, “Oh well, you tried.” Unless that child has a physiological reason why walking is impossible, we pick them up, dry their tears (if there are any) and set them back on the path until walking becomes second nature. That is called growth, and growth almost never comes from instantaneous success. Rather it comes from trial and error, learning from the error until success is imminent.

My first drawing, at least the first one my mom kept, is quite good for a three year old (and yes, I was three when I did it!). That being said, it pales in comparison to what I can do now 53 years later. The reason for that is the hundreds and thousands of drawings and other art pieces I have done in the interim. Some of those pieces made me very happy, others I would consider failures, but each of those pieces led to me being able to do the best work of my life, and yet I know, if I live and my physical capacities remain as they are, I will be doing much better work in twenty years than I can today.

The reason is simple. I have determined to risk creative failure every day to that end. That’s the power of failure. If you want to be truly successful, fail and fail often, but whatever you do, fail forward.