Feeds

'Failure is not an option... Never give up.' Not in Silicon Valley, mate

Serial failures don't make it big, no matter what rumours say

Security for virtualized datacentres

Blocks and Files Consider these two things: "Failure is not an option," the famous words of the Apollo 13 mission controller in Houston, and a college speech by a US Navy SEAL commander in which he recommended that people never, ever give up.

Yet Admiral McRaven would say that, wouldn't he – it worked for him. But he appeared to forget that it didn't apply to the vast majority of people who started SEAL training. The attrition rate is 75-80 per cent and so his Never Give Up admonition meant that almost eight people in every 10 were therefore failures, quitters, losers.

Contrast this approach with that of Silicon Valley, where failure is tolerated – nay, recommended – as part of a learning process in business. Throw mud at a wall, Valley lore says, and if it doesn't stick, taking you down with it, change the design, the technology, the process, or whatever, and try again.

USN SEAL lore says don't give up, don't change, just stick with it, whatever it takes, and then give it some more.

Silicon Valley lore says recognise failure fast, withdraw, regroup, redesign, re-apply and toss the remixed mud at the wall again... and then change it once more and toss it again when it fails. Rinse, redesign and repeat.

Only we all know it's not really like that, and definitely not when VCs are looking to gamble on a startup. They don't invest in startups run by serial failures. They don't advise their startup CEOs to recruit serial failures as executives. No, they want a track record of success in everything and so they look for people who have overcome failure, or who have succeeded in their roles despite their businesses crashing and burning.

Both Navy SEAL lore and Silicon Valley lore are unrealistic.

The SEAL commander's admonitions were appropriate to people wanting to fight to the death, but excessive and out of touch for software engineers, entrepreneurs and even venture capitalist partners. They don't throw good money after bad, and being in denial about failure is a bad thing.

Equally, don't believe for a moment that serial failure in Silicon Valley is approved of. Get real. The money follows success and a great characteristic is being able to pick out the good things from failure and build on them. Having a cushion of cash helps too.

Consider Steve Jobs being removed from Apple by former CEO John Sculley and then Jobs' (arguably) subsequent failure with NeXT. The turtle-necked one didn't give up – but he didn't keep on throwing the same mud at the wall. He changed the recipe completely and went on to greatness, albeit being a demanding bastard to work for.

He was a loser who wouldn't accept he was a loser, mixed up some stickier mud and then became a winner.

People who don't have the rounded education provided by early failures end up with an inflated opinion of themselves and possibly unreal expectations of others. I'm a winner – why can't you be one too, you losers?

Failure is not an option? Oh yes it is – but be sure to pick out your successes, stick them on your CV, present them as your track record, and try again. Or, put differently, don't throw the same old mud at the wall and watch it slide down: throw different mud and keep changing your recipe until it does stick.

That's success even if, like Steve Jobs, you're still an unrealistic so-and-so. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
The 'fun-nification' of computer education – good idea?
Compulsory code schools, luvvies love it, but what about Maths and Physics?
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.