Jim Collins, Stanford Business School professor and author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great” brought forward the idea of “fallure” when talking about the value of failure on the path to mastery. He describes a rock-climbing experience when he was attempting an “on-sight”: climbing a rock face the first time without ever having seen the route. He let go off the rock before reaching the top. Later, after feeling the regret for not making the on-sight, he realized the profound difference between “fallure”, giving 100% effort without knowing the outcome and “failure”, a conscious decision to give up.
“Failure and fallure. The difference is subtle, but it is all the difference in the world. In fallure, you still fail to get up the route but you never let go. Going to fallure means full one hundred percent commitment to go up, despite the odds against you. You’ll only find your true limit when you go to fallure, not failure. Sure, I had less than a twenty percent chance of pulling through to the crystal ball (the top of the climbing route), but because I let go, I’ll never know for sure. Perhaps I would have had an extra reserve, perhaps I would have surprised myself and had an extra bit of power to hang on for one more move. Or perhaps—and this turned out to be true—the very next hold is better than it looks. And that’s the rub. On the on-sight you don’t know what the next holds feel like. It’s the ambiguity—about the holds, the moves, the ability to clip the rope—that makes 100 percent commitment on the on-sight so difficult.”
Failure can be defined as falling short of your goal simply not getting to where you wanted to be and this is fine and straightforward. But dig down a little bit into failure and it may not be so crisply simple. We fail for many reasons: lack of skill, a strong opponent, lack of preparation but a notable reason for failure, for falling short of our goal is that we do the mental math on the benefits of sticking with a task versus the relief of stopping. When we value the relief over the benefits, we stop trying. We give up. And this is a tricky area to be in for our story. Because by giving up, we just made room for the excuse “well, I could have tried harder, but I decided not to” or “I guess I didn’t really care”. And what this has cheated us out of is knowing our limits, we simply cannot know just how good we are at that moment when we bail out.