Learning by Experience vs. Doing it Right the First Time

(From Aidan Directors Blog, 8 April 2009)

“Learning by experience” is just another name for “failing”. People who fail make up a lot of excuses. They (people who fail) spew forth meaningless platitudes, as if failing is the greatest thing that ever happened to them. The most common is along the lines of “failure is a lesson you cannot learn in school” or somesuch.

They (people who fail) point out that successful people also failed. For example, Steve Jobs, who played up his early failures in his memorable Stanford commencement address. They (people who fail) like to remind us that Thomas Edison used to “fail” thousands of times before getting the first lightbulb to work. They (people who fail) talk about Bill Gates dropping out of college as proof that he was once a “failure”.

To all these, I say: what bullshit.

Let me deconstruct all the examples to show how ridiculous they are.

First, Steve Jobs “failing” and you failing are not the same. In mid 1980s, Steve Jobs was relieved from his management duties by the Apple board of directors, because Jobs did not get along with Apple CEO John Sculley. Jobs remained as an Apple director, before he left and started NeXT. At the time, Steve Jobs already established his street cred and made his name as one of the genius entrepreneurs in the Valley. His removal from Apple management, as of many deposed company founders, came with a generous compensation. Hardly a “failure” if you ask me.

The losers I meet everyday who complain about how they got cheated in business, got scammed by salesmen, and got robbed by business partners, are just plain stupid. You are a failure and you are no Steve Jobs, so stop comparing.

Second, those who mentioned Edison’s trying out his lightbulbs as example of failing many times before succeeding, is just plain dumb. What do you expect, plugging a horseshoe into a battery and BAM, lightbulb? Of course he tried many times before it worked. Everything, from software to microchips to a new set of tires, have to be tried several times before they work. Calling Edison’s many attempts a “failure” is like calling me a failure because when I go to a shoestore I try out many pairs of shoes before I buy a pair of shoes that fits. Trying out things is not “failure” – everyone does it.

Third, about Bill Gates: please STFU because you don’t know what you are talking about. He dropped out of Harvard College because he made money writing software. He is a math genius: he authored, while an undergraduate, a paper on the Pancake Problem which explains an algorithm that remains the most efficient pancake sorting algorithms known today. Even if Microsoft failed, Gates would not have any problem resuming his studies because he’s a brilliant student. Also, Gates’s parents are rich, so his dropping out of Harvard College to start Microsoft is not as risky as some people might believe. And definitely not a failure.

I hate failure. I am hard on myself if I fail. I do not console myself with sweet talks about “you always pass failure on the way to success”. No, I don’t buy that crap about failing graciously, Berani Gagal or whatever the latest pop-psychology baloney. I hate to fail. If I fail, I am a failure. End of story.

“But Bal,” some of you might say, “if you don’t fail, how are you going to learn all the precious lessons about failure?”. There are many ways I learn about failure. First, by Google. Google knows everything. Second, by looking at my friends who failed. How hard is it not to repeat their mistakes? Third, I learn about failure by NOT BEING ONE. People who fail, if you think about it, are asking for it.

Whatever I say now, sooner or later I will fail. I will be a failure at some point. You all will laugh at me. But I will not say to myself “you know what, it’s good that you fail now, so you learnt all these lessons you could never learn elsewhere.” No, but I will rebuke myself: “You useless loser. Why do you fail? You should be ashamed of yourself.” No motivational backpat. And I will pick up from there, vowing not to fail again.

I want to do things right from the first time. Better to be slow and succeed, than to be hasty and fail. Failure sucks.

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