Today I watched this interview with Chamath Palihapitiya, the CEO of venture capital firm Social Capital and an early senior executive at Facebook. At one point in the interview Chamath talks about how at Social Capital they don’t fail. They either or learn or they are right. This might seem like a cliché or even cocky statement but I believe that the way Chamath articulates this idea is fresh and more importantly right.
Chamath argues that getting desensitized to failure is crucial for entrepreneurs because it will allow them to iterate through enough ideas until they achieve product-market fit with their ultimate business. Although Chamath is focused on entrepreneurship I believe this applies to anyone trying to build and do new things. In any case, being willing to fail often and genuinely is necessary if we want to achieve our goals.
The key takeaway from this thought experiment is twofold. First, getting desensitized to failure is a prerequisite to doing great things. By definition you will fuck up if you’re trying to do something that has never been done before. I am still exploring what are the best way to become desensitized to failure (specifically failing to launch successful projects). Right now publishing these essays and exposing my most intimate thoughts to the world is one way to put myself out there and be willing to look like an idiot to many.
Second, failure has a ROI. Failing on something that has a huge upside is better than failing on something of little consequence to you. The pain of failing might be similar in both situations but the potential ROI is very different. I know this sounds weird but hear me out. Failing for the sake of failing is stupid but failing on projects that can have a huge upside is what I imagine Warren Buffet calls “calculated risk.” Thus, it’s imperative that take big risks on a few things that we think we will have the biggest impact in our lives.
This last observation also follows this idea of 80/20 rule or Pareto principle that states that roughly 80% of any given outcome comes from 20% of events.
I am constantly trying to reexamine my relationship with failure and so far this has been one of the biggest breakthroughs for me. The idea of not failing to avoid pain is silly but reframing failure as a tool to help you move forward in life can be very powerful. For me the next step is to figure out the things that are worth “failing” in the most, try them, and readjust as necessary. Let’s see how it goes!