Failure is not an option, … or is it?

Failing is part of life

Doing new things inevitably comes with failures so we need to have learned how to cope with failure. Some lessons can even only be learned the hard way, through failures. On the other hand, most successful endeavours necessitate at times, by all actors & parties, an attitude of not accepting failure as an outcome. Experiences of that nature and intensity are likely to stay with you for the rest of your life.

Breaking down the quote

An “option” is one thing that can or may be chosen from a set of possibilities, or the freedom to make a choice. One can choose to take action and try to influence a future state, or one can choose to go with the flow. In both cases, the result of a chosen course of action is subject to external factors he cannot or did not aim to control.
“Failure” indicates that an expected result is not obtained. Referring to that expected result as an objective, failure is the resulting state when a goal or objective is not or insufficiently, reached or continued to satisfaction.
Semantically spoken failure is not an option, it is a possible outcome. By choosing for a course of action leading to failure however, you are consequently opting for failure (which does not necessarily turn it into a successful failure). You may however opt for a positive scenario and still end up failing unwillingly because you may have chosen poorly, you may have encountered unforeseeable difficulties, …


The option you will take depends on the answer to the question if it leads to an acceptable outcome. Because they are choices, acceptable options are subjective and contextual.
In the movie Apollo 13, the famous words were thrown in the rescue group of brilliant techies by Flight Director #GeneKranz. But from #JerryBostick, the Flight Dynamics Officer of the Apollo 13 mission, we learned that their origin lies in his answer to the question if some people ever panicked. He answered: “no, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution.”
Saying “failure is not an option” actually means “a course of action which does not give us the possibility of reaching our objective, is not an option we will consider”. You must admit, the first quote is a lot catchier. Not surprisingly, it was invented by a movie screenwriter, Bill Broyles.

Is failure an option?

It may well be, until it isn’t anymore. Be sure to choose and act wisely, every time again.

Yves Danneels
Partner Xperian


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