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Engineers Need To Fail – And Fail Fast

Posted on November 6th, 2015 by in Chemical R&D


Chris Walker shows us why failing fast and spectacularly is essential to succeed in Engineering.

It’s been said before that to increase your success rate, you need to double your failure rate. Success and failure seem to go hand in hand and more often than not, it’s the failure that comes first.

But failure is something that so many of us are afraid of. Failure is something most of us try to avoid, not experience more of. We’d much rather find a way to skirt around failure and make our way directly to success. As we all know deep down though, it doesn’t work like that.

The problem isn’t failure in itself though – it’s the way we think about failure that’s the issue. What if failure was celebrated? What if failure was really seen as a step in the right direction, rather than another dead end? What if we learned to enjoy failure? Some of the most innovative and creative people have learned to change the way they look at failure. And not just in an intellectual “I know I should look at failure like this” kind of way. These people have really made a shift.

Thomas Edison famously said about yet another failed attempt at innovation, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. James Dyson said “It’s time to redefine the meaning of the work ‘failure’. On the road to invention, failures are just problems that are yet to be solved”.

And so as creative thinkers, innovators and inventors, engineers need to be able to fail. And more than that, engineers need to be able to work without fearing failure. Engineers need to be allowed to do things wrong, to take things apart, to destroy them (in a controlled and structured way, of course), to learn. Show me an engineer who doesn’t like dismantling things they find interesting, and I’ll be skeptical at best. Because somewhere inside we all know that’s how we learn. We can see how things fit together, and come apart. And it’s from that understanding that innovation is born.

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