We grew up being told that “failure is not an option”. In school, teachers are reminding students that failure is not an option. During our days if you failed an assignment you would receive physical punishment.
From school, you are consistently taught not to fail, how will you learn new things if you do not fail. How will you know what doesn’t work, if you do not fail? Many still repeat this statement to the teams. Truth be told, when you want to make progress in your business, you need to make failure an option.
Business is constantly under pressure to innovate and develop new products. In the process of trying to develop these, they experience failures. That is life. It is not every time that you are going to experience success.
You are going to make mistakes, you are going to be disappointed. Failure has to be an option.
Do not fear failure, fear inaction
As a business leader, you need to constantly encourage this amongst your team. Encourage, your members to take action. Failure is okay, not trying is not. When you try to do something, you are going to fail. And that’s good. If you fear failure, you will never try anything new. So, it has to be an option. Fail more. Fail many times. Don’t lose heart when you fail. On your path to success, failure is inevitable. Not only do you have to expect it, you have to embrace it as well. If you reject failure you reject success. It is the door that ushers in success.
There are some few thoughts that I want you to reflect on;
Fear failure, fear success
Failure is a priceless asset
Failure, is not an enemy, but fear is
Lessons from failure are priceless if you choose to learn.
The ‘Successful failure’
“Houston, we’ve had a problem.” These are the words by Commander Jim Lovell uttered the phrase during the Appollo 13 mission. As I was touring Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centre in 2019, the tour guide introduced me to an interesting concept of “successful failure.” This also happens to be the centre were the distress call was sent to. Out of curiosity I read further on this story.
On April 11, 1970, the powerful Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 13 mission launched from Kennedy Space Centre propelling astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert on what was meant to be humanity’s third lunar landing.
The mission to explore the Fra Mauro region of the Moon did not go as planned. Due to the previous successes in the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 and the subsequent Apollo 12 mission, this mission was treated as a “routine” mission soon and gave many the impression that lunar landings were almost routine in nature.
The mission got off to an auspicious start when, during launch, the Saturn V experienced an early shut-down of one of the second stage’s J-2 engines.
Burning the remaining four engines an additional 34 seconds longer and the third stage an additional nine seconds placed Apollo 13 in the proper orbit.
Afterwards, the mission settled into what increasingly felt like a routine journey prompting Joe Kerwin, the capsule communicator back in Houston, to proclaim that the “spacecraft is in good shape” and that he and everyone else in the control room were “bored to tears down here.” Minutes later, the explosion of oxygen tank number two ended those feelings of boredom entirely.
As warning lights in the cabin indicated the loss of two of the three fuel cells, the crew communicated to Houston that indeed they had a big problem.
Looking to the outside of the command module Odyssey, Lovell noticed they were “venting something out into the . . . into space.”
That venting was in fact the lifeblood of the mission, oxygen. The crew discovered that the explosion in tank number two had also damaged tank number one—a problem which made use of the fuel cells impossible threatening the eventual loss of all electrical power and water.
With the lunar landing now erased from the equation, both the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 and NASA personnel on the ground worked tirelessly around the clock to develop solutions that would allow them to return home safely.
The immediate response plan was to enter what was known as “lifeboat mode.” Here, the lunar module, Aquarius became central to efforts to save the beleaguered space craft and crew.
Aquarius’ full oxygen tank and descent engine both proved critical in keeping the crew alive and returning them to Earth.
Along with the extreme shortage of water and electrical power, the crew also encountered dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.
Plenty of lithium hydroxide canisters, designed to remove the gas from the spacecraft, were on hand in the command module.
The problem, however, was that those square cannisters were not compatible with the round openings in the Aquarius. Doing what engineers do, support staff in Houston devised a method for fitting a “square peg in a round hole.”
After taking a free-return-to-Earth trajectory and using the Sun as an alignment star for navigation, Apollo 13 soon found themselves approaching home. One final problem remained — powering up the command module after its seemingly long hiatus from the action. Under normal conditions, the process of writing new procedures would take three months. Houston had three days. One major issue concerned whether cold condensation on the instrumentation would short circuit when power returned.
Years later, Haise remembered the command module looking as though someone had “sprayed it with a hose” and that the crew had to “wipe everything off with a towel.”
Fortunately, activation caused no arching. Why not? The answer could be found in the lessons learned from the devastating Apollo 1 fire in January 1967 after which a major redesign was undertaken to add increased insulation for the better protection of the wiring.
On April 17, the crew said goodbye to Aquarius and returned to Earth — splashing down in the Pacific Ocean near Samoa. Only when the crew was safely aboard the recovery ship U.S.S. Iwo Jima could everyone at NASA and around the world finally begin to exhale.
The lessons learned from the successful failure of Apollo 13 were rapidly applied to the remaining Apollo missions and continue to guide safety and mission assurance at NASA today.
Why call it successful failure?
Why is Apollo 13 mission called, the successful failure? Even though an explosion crippled the primary spacecraft two days in and failed the attempt to land on the moon surface, Lovell and fellow crew-members Fred Haise and Jack Swigert returned safely to Earth.
During that period NASA had to prioritise the safety of the crew.
This was communicated clearly. The ground crew had to abandon quickly plans to land on the moon, as something much greater was stake.
This is what businesses need to do in moments of crisis, you need to prioritise. Give attention to areas of importance.
The Appollo experiences taught a fundamental principle that experience comes from experience.
Going through something will never leave you the same. There is no substitution for preparation and actually hands on approach. There’s no substitute for hours and hours of actually doing something. When crisis hits, you know how to react, and how to prepare.
Failure is an asset
Failure is an asset because of what it teaches you. DO not waste it. The failures of Apollo 13 guided future missions which successfully landed on the moon. 2024, NASA has set a goal to land the first woman, and the next man on the surface of the moon.
There is talk of landing a man of colour on the moon surface. The 2024 mission builds on the work done in the past.
Failure is an asset. One of the lessons that Apollos 13 teaches business is the priority of training teams. Invest in your team.
The team on the ground had to recreate the conditions in the lifeboat, and guide the team on how to come back to earth. This success manifested in days, what had been practised over thousands of combined hours. Keep polishing and improving your skills as a team.
Arthur Marara is a corporate law attorney, keynote speaker, corporate and personal branding speaker commanding the stage with his delightful humour, raw energy, and wealth of life experiences. He is a financial wellness expert and is passionate about addressing the issues of wellness, strategy and personal and professional development. Arthur is the author of “Toys for Adults” a thought provoking book on entrepreneurship, and “No one is Coming” a book that seeks to equip leaders to take charge. Send your feedback to [email protected] or Visit his website www.arthurmarara.com or contact him on WhatsApp: +263780055152.