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Failure as the secret of success

People get mad at the Fedora Project all the time because something important to them fails to work.  “It used to work, it worked for a long time, and now it’s broken!”  They look at an idea that we tried out, failed, and learned from, and don’t understand how we could let that get in to a release.

This comes up in my house, with my daughters and wife, who hate to fail.  HATE IT. I know where this comes from.  Even when you try your supportive best, it’s easy to focus on the success and the praise.  How often do we praise failure?

I’ve been telling them, telling Fedorans, telling anyone who will listen that the secret to our success is in fact our failure.  You cannot learn without failure.  Even when you dock a massive fail boat, you at least learn after all is done what not to do next time.

Last night I caught a shortened version of a Honda documentary, full version available here on youtube.com.  The moment in the video that grabbed me initially is Indycar driver Danica Patrick talking about racing:

You’re driving your car and you feel frightened a little bit.  We bump up against that feeling as much as we can to try and push that limit further, and get comfortable there, and then push it again, so, you know, you’re constantly on the brink of crashing because that’s the fastest.

In an engineering-oriented organization such as Honda, “Failure is a by-product of pushing the envelope,” as one engine designer puts it.  It’s a culture that goes back to the organizational founding, as explained by Takeo Fukui, President and CEO of Global Honda, when talking about Soichiro Honda’s ideas of trial and error.  “We can only make fantastic advances in technology through many failures.”

What we do to make free/libre and open source software better is a rapid a process of fail, learn, succeed, push the envelope, fail, learn, succeed, push the envelope, ad infinitum.  Fedora happens to be particularly good at this, more willing than some, more like Danica Patrick, to be frightened, get comfortable, then push the limits again.

(Post updated with spelling correction and being added to the Red Hat category.)