Failure is an Option: Flying Fear in Formation

By Barry Moltz
Author, Bounce!Reprinted with Permission

Chapter 6: Failure is an Option: Flying Fear in Formation

In April 1970, when things went wrong aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft, astronaut Jim Lovell told mission control, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” In response to the challenge of coming


up with a solution to the spacecraft’s near-fatal problems, Gene Kranz, the lead flight director for Mission Control told his team. “Failure is not an option.”

Kranz’s words were immortalized in the 1995 movie, Apollo 13, and this phrase has now become the rallying cry for many a sports team and corporation. Unfortunately, these words don’t hold up in life and especially not in business where failure is almost always an option.

We don’t need stargazing or a crystal ball to figure this out. Failure is in each of our futures somewhere, and probably in most of our pasts, where it likely has appeared more than once. If you say you never met failure and never will, then you are either not being honest or you have simply set your goals too low.

Statistically, failure is the most likely business outcome we all face as most companies fail after five years. Larry Farrell in Across the Board Magazine states that out of 100 people, 70 will want to start a business; 15 actually will in the next few years, and only five will succeed on the first try. [1] In business, this makes failure far more common than success.

Greet Failure with a New Vocabulary

In case you have not met in a while, let me re-introduce you to failure. Failure is brassy, never shy. Failure is red, never yellow or green. Failure is a good teacher, but a bad learner. Failure prefers dim light. Failure’s favorite time of year is winter. Failure is like fire, a bruise, ice, and chili peppers.

We learn this at an early age. I can still picture my younger son and his friends forming an L with their thumbs and forefingers with his fingers and waving their hands above their heads to make fun of a team that lost. As adults, the expressions we use to describe failure are even more severe and hurtful: botch, bust, decay, deadbeat, derelict, deficiency, dud, fiasco, good for nothing, loafer, moocher, nobody, sinking ship, washout, and wreck.

Not a pretty picture. Words like these denote someone who is broke and lazy, someone who has something inherently wrong with them. In Yiddish, someone who fails is called a nebbish—literally, a nothing. The language we use does influence the way we feel and how we will act next, and words like botch, bust, nebbish, and failure have tremendous power to make us feel horrible.

If you want to grow true business confidence for yourself and for the people around you, rethink your vocabulary, and stop using failure as a label for so many things. if we are ever going to achieve the crazy confidence, we must invest more in clearly understanding the cause and effect of an undesired and unexpected outcome than simply dismissing it with the word failure can ever accomplish.

[1] Across the Board Magazine, Sept 2005