Rethinking Failure by Victor Cheng

Below is an email newsletter I receive from a mentor I highly respect.

All credit of the material below goes to Victor Cheng.


What is the opposite of success?

If you’re like most people, your instinctive response is “failure.”

This success vs. failure paradigm is so ingrained in our academic and work culture.

I disagree with it completely.

I prefer to think of this issue through a different lens.

I think the opposite of success is “non-success.”

I know this sounds like semantics and a waste of time to consider.

However, I think there are some powerful reasons why “success” vs. “non-success” is a more useful paradigm than the more common “success” vs. “failure” paradigm.

If we were speaking in purely logical terms, success is a binary event.

1 = Yes
0 = No

However, I think the term “failure” is loaded with so many psychological associations that its meaning has gone beyond the logical definition of a non-successful outcome.

If you “fail” 10 times in a row, the tendency is to think that maybe you’re a “failure” as a person or professional.

If a computer generates a non-successful outcome 10 times in a row, it doesn’t see itself as a failure or as somehow inadequate.

The great value of the success vs. non-success paradigm is that the focus moves away from personal attribution.

Success = what you did that worked

Non-Success = what you did that worked differently than you expected

AND there’s usually some insight as to what to do differently next time.

In the success vs. non-success model, the focus is on learning from the deviation from expectations.

In the success vs. failure model, the focus is on FAILING or BEING a “failure” as opposed to learning.

So next time you don’t succeed, don’t think of that outcome as a failure.

Instead, see it as a “non-successful” event. Something you thought would be true just didn’t turn out to be true.

Focus your energy on WHY.

Learn from it.

Remember what to NOT do next time.

Try something different.

When you focus on “failure,” the tendency is to foster self-doubt and wonder what’s wrong with you.

When you focus on “non-success,” the focus is on insight around what doesn’t work.

Insight is far more useful than self-doubt.

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About Innovatio

An international Socratic warrior on a journey in search of human happiness and value which can further human civilization.
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