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On Failure

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Journal Article

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Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Acquisition Washington United States

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Failure is inevitable. That may be a strange sentiment to come from a group of wild-eyed optimists like ourselves, but it is one we stand behind with confidence. Lets say it one more time, with feeling Failure is inevitable. Go aheadtake a moment to let that sentence sink in. Unfortunately, people in organizations like the Department of Defense and NASA tend to say things like Failure is not an option, as if such bravado could somehow ensure unmitigated, unvarnished, unequivocal success. While such a dramatic statement makes for an inspiring movie quote, it can have a bad effect in real life. We think it reveals a counterproductive fear of failure and a fundamental misunderstanding of what failure really is. The problem is that people who think failure is not an option may feel the need to call it something else when failures occurand trust us, they occurwhich can lead otherwise honorable people to dissemble, deny, and disguise failures. The truth is, failure is always an option. Indeed, failure is inevitable. The inevitability of failure doesnt mean success is impossible. It simply means that given suffi cient time and multiple attempts to accomplish any given objective, we can all expect a certain amount of failure. No matter how smart, talented, focused, prepared, hard-working, or lucky we are, sometimes things just dont turn out the way we planned.

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