Samuel Beckett and The 5 Rules of Successful Failure
When my wife and I were coming up with names for our son Zac (now 10), we wanted to give him a choice in later life if he didn’t like his first name.
In our infinite wisdom as new parents we gave him 2 middle names.
Finnegan and Samuel.
Our thinking was that if he didn’t like Zac, he could always be called Finn or Sam.
Ok, I can see you rolling your eyes. But at least we didn’t call him Dweezil, Zowie or Romeo!
Incidentally Zac has been cast as Romeo in his end of term school play of the Shakespearean romantic tragedy.
But I digress.
Yes, I know this is going to sound a bit pretentious, but there was a literary inspiration for his middle names. To be 100% honest, Heloise just liked the names, while I wanted to find some deeper reference that Zac could tell people if ever asked why his parents gave him 2 middle names.
Finnegan is from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake – a famously incomprehensible dream novel that I was particularly fond of in my twenties.
Samuel was from Joyce’s friend and fellow Irish writer – Samuel Beckett – made famous by Waiting For Godot voted “the most significant English language play of the 20th century” and described by one critic Vivien as “a play in which nothing happens, twice.”
I must admit Becket was my favourite – his books were shorter and his bleak outlook fitted perfectly with my ‘tortured artist’ twenties.
But little did I think that Beckett would become the poster boy for motivation and self-improvement.
In his short novella from 1983 – Worstward Ho! – an anonymous narrator speaks of loss, death and decay, including the following:
“Ever tried. Ever failed.
Try Again. Fail again.
Hmm, it’s hardly the stuff of a Tony Robbins’ motivational speech!
And yet this one quote has been used on countless inspirational posters, t-shirts, mugs… and even jockstraps!
In fact I have a small postcard of the quote, like the one below, on a bookshelf and I caught Zac reading it the other day. (See there is a connection!)
“What do you think?” I said
“It’s sick!” he responded. (By ‘sick’, I should point out he means very good as opposed to unwell! )
Now let me get to the important point!
How can such a negative quote be so inspiring?
I have a very personal connection with a positive attitude towards failure from my mentors – Bill Bonner of Agora and Mark Ford – both championed a philosophy of ‘accelerating your rate of failure’.
With a hugely successful background in direct mail, they understood that the process of building a business (and making money) came down to continually testing one idea against another.
Invariably one test would outperform the other.
Sometimes by a small margin. Sometimes by a huge amount.
The very basis of direct mail allows you to ‘fail’ in such a way that the end result is you make more money over the long term.
But you don’t need to be a direct mail marketer to ‘fail better’
I know I bang on about it all the time, but these days just about every approach to making money allows you to fail successfully.
You can trade financial markets for as little as 10p per point (yes you can start with a demo account, but you won’t have the added reality of using real money)
Betfair allows you a minimum bet of just £2
You could test a product on eBay through a dropshipper or only buying a very small amount of stock
Being an affiliate marketer means you can test other people’s marketing and products without risking your own money on development
Internet and email marketing allow you to test new products, ideas and offers with almost zero cost
And to help you change your relationship to failure, I’ve outlined some of the principles I’ve found work for me.
The 5 Rules of Successful Failure
(and how they can be the key to you profiting)
FAIL QUICKLY – although this approach has plenty of positives, you don’t want each test to drag on for months. Instead always try to concentrate your failure events to the shortest possible time frame. That way you will gather the insights you need in less time.
FAIL CHEAPLY – always test the market with minimal quantities or stakes. Pretty obvious really, but so many people will ‘test’ the market by spending months and big money on a finished product or offer. Failure then becomes expensive and the fallout far more negative.
FAIL WISELY – failure is such a rich source of knowledge; each time you try something that doesn’t work, you are a little better informed. Always make sure that you understand what the failure means and to recognise it so you don’t repeat the same mistake again.
FAIL FAIRLY – always be ethical and honest: seeking failure should never mean you should short change your customers or clients. They must be your priority. Always make sure you can honor your promises.
FAIL PROUDLY – there is nothing wrong with failure. Whether you are running a home business part time or running a large enterprise, those who are not afraid to accept the inevitability of small failures and learn from them, will inevitably win the long game.
What have you learned from past failure?
Does the thought of failure fill you with dread or do you have a healthy positive attitude towards it?
I’d love to know…