What Would You Do if You Knew You Couldn’t Fail? (Part 1)

A friend and I conducted a simple experiment on Whatsapp this evening. There really was no concrete goal that we had in mind — we just wanted to see how people would react.

Without giving them any background as to why we were asking them the question, or whether the answer should relate to any aspect of their lives, we sent people the following question:

“What would you do if you couldn’t fail?”

As you can imagine, the answers ranged from the very simple, to the very complex. There were a few who wanted to change the world, while others wanted to make changes for or within themselves. What was interesting was that some people answered it straight away — hardly taking any time, while others came back to us with a lot of follow on questions before coming back with an answer. A few even came back with 3 and even 4 answers to the question. And a few people seemed to get very stressed by this!

The answers were as follows:

“I would try failing may be, just to know how it feels!”
“I will be as humble as I can”
“I would do the impossible” (when probed what that would be, the respondent hadn’t yet come back to me with an answer.)
“Anything I wanted to”
“Become the Chief Minister of Bangalore and make it Singapore”
“I would create a world-leading smartphone education platform that completely gamifies the learning experience for students, free of charge, globally accessible, and accredited by major educational bodies”
“I’ll make people laugh more”
“I’ll get more in tune with myself”
“Join a rock band as a lead guitarist or play the drums as crazily as Keith Moon did”
“Perform each task or activity more freely, knowing that I will ace it”
“Take on Uber or Space X”
“Time travel back to 1954 to see what that man was thinking when he wrote 1986”
“I’d just get up and go study for a year or something in Paris just now may be. But not that that is really a priority in life right now”
“I will be humble and confident”
“Await supreme destiny without doubt”
“That’s what I do everyday — coaching friends, guiding clients, and making them do XYZ course”
“I would not be complacent, ensure that I don’t fail, act and conduct as if I don’t know the outcome, still feel great about my best efforts, celebrate success, pat myself for setting achievable goals!”
“I’d strip away all these beliefs, assumptions and ambitions I’ve been fooled into thinking are my life, and really tune in to the Universe and go with its flow”
“I’d genuinely try to connect with every living being more”
“Start a restaurant”
“I’d try to fail at everything”
“Make this world a better place to live in”
“I gotta think about that one”
“I need a day to think on that one”

The person who said they’d start a restaurant found out that someone else wanted to ‘make people laugh’, and promptly offered the comedian a stand up comedy gig at his restaurant!

There are so many takeaways from this exercise, but a few which are worth noting are as follows:

  1. People are amazing. The majority came back with beautiful answers, and all answers were positive in nature.
  2. The same question, sent on the same medium, yielded such a variety of answers.
  3. A lot of people did not understand the question. Some thought that it was a ‘trick question’ or a riddle. This is evident from some of the answers.
  4. The mind, possibly due to the way formal education is structured, tries to make even simple things complex. Instead of just taking a simple question at face value and answering it, some people tried to trick me into believing that my question itself did not have an answer. Many people came back with so many questions i.e. they were not happy with ambiguity.
  5. Life seems to be a game of perception. What we perceive determines the reality that we experience. All these people had exactly the same question put to them — and the answers suggest that they all interpreted it a little differently. That is very fascinating.

Personal Anecdote — I had an interesting experience when I was doing my Masters. We were in a lecture on some fluffy business topic. It was one of those classes for which you didn’t get marks, but the University was hoping you would attend. Half way through the class, one of the lecturers walked out and then came back in after a couple of minutes. I noticed that something had changed. When he asked us if we had observed anything different, a classmate and I were the only two people in the entire room (over 100 people)to spot that he had changed his trousers.

He gave us both some chocolates as a prize. But what that taught us all was that your focus is what determines your reality. What you perceive as reality is just one of many alternatives. Your brain, or monkey brain to be more accurate, is creating all sorts of illusions and therefore, different people looking at the same event can react very differently.

(Don’t ask me why I was focusing on his trousers and not on what he was saying)

6. Very few answers spoke about the present. Most discuss longings from the past, or hopes and ambitions for the future.

7. Some answers were very specific — going back in time to do something, or building a certain type of company. Others were very generic.

8. Some related to personal goals, while others wanted to do good for the world and the people around them.

9. There were a few grand statements, while others were very simple.

I intend following this up with another question tomorrow, which I hope will yield more insights.

Also, many thanks to everyone who took the pains to come back with an answer! And particularly to Reshma Ju for her inputs and helping me compile the answers!