Friday, November 22, 2013

The Failure Continuum

The words fail or failure are being used with greater frequency. I suspect that we can blame popular humor sites like Fail Blog and Cake Wrecks that put on display all sorts of mishaps and human error. I've even noticed casual use of Fail in reference to any kind of common mistake or malady by someone saying simply "FAIL", although they're more than likely commenting online. I find it interesting because I don't see one mistake, accident, strip-up, misstep, or whatever you want to call it as being a failure. I suspect that this is something that is unique to me, but I think there is what I'll call a "continuum of failure."

I have a little saying I tell my kids when they're trying to do something they repeatedly attempt but aren't quite successful at. The little saying is: You've only failed if you don't learn from your mistakes. In other words it isn't failure unless you continue trying to do the same thing, but never learn anything or give up. This is what I've always told myself to keep motivated as kind of a "fool me once, shame on me..." saying.

I decided to write a little bit about this today after reading a post from  BeerBrarian by Jacob Berg (): On Failure: “Elizabethtown: Embedded Librarianship as Overreach.” I really enjoy reading not only because of the beer, libraries, and DC connections, but also because he's honest, approachable, and introspective. It would take another post about failure to address the rest of today's post, so I'll leave that for later.

The post today includes a quote from the movie "Elizabethtown":

"As somebody once said: There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the nonpresence of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a feeassscoe, a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because. It. Didn't. Happen. To. Them." - Orlando Bloom, Elizabethtown
I'm drawn to the quote because of the continuation of the idea of failure, from a single screw up to a "disaster of mythic proportions." This lead me to take my basic notion of a mistake not learned equals failure to imagine a sort of flow chart, or continuum, of failure. We begin with a mistake, that is not learned from, which becomes a failed act. This act combines with other failure to become Orlando Bloom's fiasco. I find this a fascinating idea because so often massive failure like the site can't be traced back to one mistake, but rather a whole series of mistakes repeated over and over. These mistakes snowball from simple mistakes to failures and, in the end, fiasco.

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