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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

What Would You Do If... If You Knew You Could Not Fail...

T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill

"I like watching TED Talks because the presentations make me think about things. Sometimes the presenters put words to ideas I've been thinking but haven't gotten to articulate properly. One subject I routinely revisit is the power of creativity, which is addressed in many videos on the TED Talk website. I believe creativity, the application of creativity--i.e., innovation--will be the only way to stay ahead of the future complexities of the modern world. 
Without creativity, we'll be stuck doing things the same old way, which I don't think helps move society forward. One of the speed bumps to innovation is fear because of the risk of failure when innovating. In the midst of successful careers, we may not be willing to innovate, to stick our necks out there, at the risk of failing. This brings up the question, "What would you do if you could not fail?"

Regina Dugan, former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), asks that precise question in TED Talk, Regina Dugan: From mach-20 glider to humming bird drone.

She asks us to consider: if you removed the fear of failure element, what could you accomplish? She shows off exciting technology feats accomplished by small teams on sometimes shoe-string budgets. The examples are impressive. 

Sure there are failures. In fact, some of them could be epic. Still, the DARPA model believes there is big pay-off innovating like this, even when there’s failure.

I'm a big believer in this concept, the harder road the better. The path that takes us to the "sure thing" rarely leads to anything substantial. As Sir Ken Robison, an educator and speaker, aptly put it, "Unless you are willing to fail you will never create anything truly original." The possibility of failure is precisely the ingredient that's associated with amazing things. 
I think unless the possibility of failure exists, 
 you'll likely not encounter anything unique or notable.

Why do I think this? Because the nature of shooting for the edges of the "envelope" means sometimes the envelope is exceeded, which might lead to a type of failure. If you're always playing it safe, you will never stretch the envelope. Just to be clear I am not suggesting people exceed their aircraft limits in the false hope of achieving something great. I’m talking about self-imposed or metaphorical limits.

Here's the funny thing about failure when you're shooting for the edges: When you fail, you'll learn something you probably didn't know before. In fact, you'll likely learn something totally unexpected. I've read many of our medical discoveries trace their origins to supposed failures. 
Scientists were looking for something, conducted an experiment, and experienced unexpected results -- i.e., a failure. But, upon further analysis, the something they weren't expecting that revealed itself led to studies in different directions. There was success out of the failure by way of something unexpected. The medical community isn't the only discipline in which this type of thing happens. It can happen in our own aviation community.

Let's talk about something we're all familiar with. Unless you were born with your hands on a yoke, taking the leap to begin flight training is precisely that, a leap. Learning to fly is a long term, expensive commitment that would never pass a common sense test. 
If you were weighing the pros and cons of starting the path to a pilot’s license like as if you were using a gigantic balance, you’d probably never have that balance fall to the “yes, it’s a good idea” side. Yet, people start aviation careers everyday by taking that leap. They start despite the numbers, despite suffering the possibility of failure. There is something intangible, un-measurable, that makes people believe it’ll all work out. We have example after example among our readers who wouldn't be stopped. They leapt and succeeded.

Here's the funny thing: we didn't always have this fear of failure. I'm sure you can remember as a kid when you leapt before looking. You just did. You just did and discovered what there was to discover. Addressing failure wasn't an issue. Somewhere along the way, as we all got older, we embraced the comfort of the safer path. We considered "what if this doesn't work out," as if it were the key litmus test before doing anything. The fear of what might happen took over.

I'm not suggesting a course where realities are disregarded - realities as in tangible risks. I am not suggesting people step off real cliffs without looking. There will always be risks out there that need to be addressed. Addressing them is absolutely the right action. But, there are plenty of risks or perceived possibilities for failure that aren't based in reality and aren't connected to tangible evidence. Those are the ones that can be cast aside.

Life is complicated enough with real risks without adding false ones as well, which is precisely the point of this article."
What would YOU do 
if you could not fail?


Tom left us with an excellent question, and one that I ask daily. I challenge you to leave a comment below by answering this question.... "What would you do if you could not fail?"

I do not fear failure. Do you?

When you have 25 minutes... please go listen to TED Talk, Regina Dugan: From mach-20 glider to humming bird drone.

Enjoy the journey!
XO Karlene


  1. It may sound strange, but I think we all learn from mistakes and/or fails. Failures might turn us wiser and why not, we can have a different perspective at the time to face another (or the same) challenge in life. Who knows, but I think failures are really important for us.

    By the way, beautiful pictures.

    Regards :)

  2. Thomas, I watch TED Talks frequently too!

    What would I do if I knew I could not fail?

    I think it has a lot to do with self-control. If you know how to focus and fear wisely of failure, and know how to create an escape valve for stress... No wait!

    How about telling you "fear of failure" is about perspective? About knowing your own philosophy of self-leading towards progress?

    Fail can mean Forward. But you have to know how to get up (or change) your principles. You have to learn and listen from that failure. Sometimes it takes time. And it might be a lot of time.

    What about from the professional side? I mean, as for us Pilots? Is the same applicable? I think it is.

    Do you always try to learn new things everyday and from life's details? Do you recognize your responsibilities? Do you believe in yourself?

    I think life is like one great school. If something bad happens to me or if I fail, I ask myself: What is this trying to teach me? Why has it happened?

    Now back to the question:
    What would I do if I knew I could not fail?

    I would do my best. Failed? Then that was one great experience. If I could try again, I would.



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