Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Failure and Giving Up

You can't fail, if you don't give up. -- Stephen in The Last Kiss
It's a "deep" statement that isn't obviously true or false.

There's an entrepreneur I know who has tried an idea that has clearly failed. It's failed due to a combination of it not being needed enough and other people doing it better. I don't know which is the killer of his implementation, but one of them is. This person has still not realized that their version won't ever be enough or that it fails to beat competitors' versions. Yet they keep trying. They've failed, but they have not given up.

Here are some signs that tell me they've failed:
  • It's been a long time. The person has been at it for 8+ years. Set a deadline for yourself. If it's over some reasonable amount of time, you're probably deluding yourself.
  • Failure is ignored. The person has already achieved failure. The product has no adoption after repeated attempts. There's no revenue, no recent investment, nothing. The world is saying he's failed but the person is ignoring it. Set metrics for yourself. If you haven't achieved them, you've probably failed.
But here's how the original quote could be true. The most successful founders are "relentlessly resourceful" [PG's great essay]. They are relentless. They do something which is resisted. It doesn't matter how long it's been. It doesn't matter how many signs paint a picture of failure. If they believe, they can make it true. 
  • Maybe you haven't tried for long enough to figure out if the market wants your product. Maybe, with just the right change, growth will accelerate and you'll find product market fit.
  • In the movie the quote is from, this problem is considered in a personal context. You've waited on her doorstep for hours. But maybe it takes days. She's told you there's no hope. But maybe she doesn't mean it. Or maybe she means it but doesn't realize that there is hope, and she just doesn't know it yet.
The problem is, the statements supporting the original quote being true are silly graduation-speech-style stupid self-help statements. In reality, there are thousands of people who believe they can overcome failure but actually can't. They simply morph what they were originally believing into something different, and fool themselves about their original belief.

It's the pessimist in me... but you can fail even if you don't give up. The original statement is not true.

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