Ignore the “Fail Often” Crew

I like the position the 37 Signals guys take on failure. The classic counter argument is to cite Thomas Edison’s numerous failures on the way to inventing the light bulb. The theory being that this is somehow an indication that failure is a good thing because you learn from your mistakes. Pure bullshittery. The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t recognise iterative improvement as the way to achieving an eventual success. The truth is that almost all human endeavour leading to some “breakthrough” success is the result of many small, iterative breakthroughs, one building on the success of the last.

To quote the 37 Signals post:

There’s a significant difference between “now I know what to do again” and “don’t do that again.” The former being better than the latter.

If you could travel back and observe Edison iterating through his supposed failures, I’m sure you’d find that the majority of his prototypes were better than the preceding one. I’m also sure that many of them lit up. The “fail often” crew would have you believe that Edison had countless abandoned, dead-end prototypes lying around his lab, and it was the very last one that lit up. Nah, he just followed an iterative process with lots of little successes, just like we all do when we apply ourselves to a challenging task… right?