21 Dec 2020

Failure

Think of any multi-billion dollar company and you’ll remember their successes. After all, that’s how they made all that money, right? But for every successful business, there have been a lot of failures which would have bankrupted or otherwise ruined other businesses–or people for that matter (and they probably have but why spoil a successful capitalist story).

In a recent work interview, I was asked what success looked like for me. It felt like a more helpful version of “where do you see yourself in five years?” and I found it easier to answer. But for a while, I’ve thought about the epic failures from the likes of Disney, Apple, Microsoft, and Sir Richard Branson (to name a few) and how they’ve been glossed over because they’re worth trillions between them. Even if those failures were proportionally scaled to smaller businesses or people, they’d be seen as cautionary tales and seen for what they were - failures.

Why is failure seen as admirable risk-taking for some people but comical mismanagement for others? If we’re asked to define our own successes, we should be able to define our own failures and there shouldn’t be a hierarchal disparity.

I’ve focussed a lot on business for these examples but it might be clearer to see the differences when we look at politics. Take a look at Boris Johnson. His failures have involved the deaths of thousands of people, racism against thousands more, and a general apathy towards people who aren’t rich Tories (emphasis on rich because he doesn’t give a shit about working or middle class Tory voters despite the rhetoric). Now look at Diane Abbott, a Black woman and trailblazing MP who is seens as incompetent and foolish for merely existing. People take pride in laughing at her and pointing at her faults and the moment you point out the misogynoir, they get heated and play the reverse race card.

If we’re going to define our successes or failures, we need to take into account:

  • The effect on ourselves
  • The effect on other people
  • What we accomplished
  • What we learnt
  • Probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten because I’m not a sage

If you’ve harmed people at any point is not a cause for celebration. Morals cannot be separated from business because business involves people at its fundamental level. The same for politics, sport, art, literature, food and drink, tech, everything. Let’s focus one of the top failures in society right now: looking after people properly. Those successful people and companies have pillaged lives that will never come remotely close to that success and that is a monumental failure that has to be seen for what it is. Now.