Lean Into Failure

If you're an actor, the majority of your work isn't performing, it's auditioning. And since most auditions don't lead to a job, this means actors are people who fail professionally in order to hone their craft.

The first time rocket engineers launch a new vehicle into space, they often expect it to explode long before it reaches orbit. This isn't because all rocket engineers are bad at their jobs. It's because they're solving really hard problems and have to expect some failures along the way.

Sometimes, they have to blow up multiple rockets before they can get a design to work reliably.

People in the space industry like to refer to these test explosions as “rapid, unscheduled disassemblies.” Surely, this is mostly tongue in cheek, but many explosions are actually considered a success in the early phase of a rocket’s development.

The easiest way to avoid blowing up a rocket is to leave it on the launch pad, but that’s not what rockets are for.

In the same way that actors work towards landing that dream role and, knowing the odds, must expect frequent rejection, rocket engineers must also embrace public failure as a core element of their work.

Most people don’t have to face this kind of public failure on a regular basis in order to simply do their job. Rather, we can tiptoe around the risks we encounter, choosing the path well-traveled while sacrificing the potentially much greater upside of the unknown.

But we do ourselves a disservice when we approach our work this way. We should instead aim for the stars, expect to blow up a few rockets along the way while mitigating the danger, and learn as much as we can from the explosions.

You might go much farther that way.


Reflections on creating systems to sustainably grow your impact on the world.
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