A few years before NASA’s shuttle program was shut down, my wife and I took the kids to Kennedy Space Center as part of our vacation in Florida. Everyone enjoyed the tour and the surrounding natural beauty which has such a peaceful presence and stands in stark contrast to Launch Pad 39 and the rest of the facilities. We got a chance to listen and meet one of the retired astronauts. He was kind enough to sign some of the kid's shirts. He mentioned a phrase that I had heard many times during his speech “Failure is not an option”. I thought about that and asked him if failure was part of the space program. He acknowledged that establishing a mindset around perfection while avoiding the possibility of failure was critical for getting everyone to focus and succeed in the early days of the Apollo program. I asked if NASA’s approach has changed with the advances in technology and focus on innovation. He indicated that things have stayed consistent for the program in regards to failure. I asked if “Failure to Try is not an option” was a better way to embrace innovation and encourage exploration. He gave me a curious look and continued signing memorabilia.
Ever since that brief encounter, I have embraced the idea of “Failure to TRY is not an option” after studying successful entrepreneurs and inventors, building innovation centers in large companies, and working with individuals and organizations to ignite and scale innovation to drive growth. Fast forward to the last few years. Enter Elon Musk and SpaceX. Listening to many conversations with Musk reveals a consistent theme for his own success and how he approaches innovation and failure. He too embraces the idea of Failure to TRY is not an option. When presenters introduce Musk, they often refer to him as breaking boundaries and achieving what was not thought possible. This kind of thinking is critical to imbue in everyone as the challenges facing us as individuals, as business owners, as a society, as a country, and as a civilization continue to grow in size, complexity, and impact.
Don’t set boundaries around your thinking when facing challenges. Set your sights higher and reach farther than you are comfortable. Discomfort is good for igniting imagination and pushing beyond your limits. If you push hard you will likely encounter failures along the way. Failures are a metric for measuring your efforts to pursue ideas to achieve really hard goals. You may not achieve the goals, but as long as you learn from your mistakes, you will achieve new levels of success and perhaps find new ways to reach the summit. But, if you never try you will assure failure to achieve.