What Do You Need To Avoid Futile Failure?

On The Death Of Loved Ones, And Failure In Startups

This is charcoal.

It’s not gray. It’s not black. Wikipedia says it’s “the dark gray color of burnt wood.”

I first learned of the word “charcoal” when I was running up and down the streets chasing these.

These are activated charcoal. They are used as a first line emergency in extreme cases of overdose. I needed them to save a dear friend of mine who suddenly decided to see God.

Death of loved ones is a teachable moment.

We learn that we should pay better attention to those we love despite our busy lives. Because at the end of the day, life it too short. And procrastinating something in a time that is already too short is, in fact, a decision not to do it at all.

Though when your someone passes away in your arms, you learn something else. Those who are affected the most by death aren’t the ones who passed away — those move on to another word, while pretty pictures get painted of them by everybody, regardless of reality. The ones who suffer the most are those who stay alive after watching death plucking their loved ones.

Dying is a selfish act. More so is suicide. But unlike death, suicide can be prevented, and I wasn’t given a fair chance to do that. I was in a rigged game where the only outcome is irreversible failure.

I felt cheated. All I needed was just a little bit of time, and my friend took that away from me. I couldn’t forgive her.

Then one day, I saw this work by Hoshi Shin’ichi, the most prominent writer of the “short short” form in Japan, as part of NHK’s celebration of his life.

(Activate closed captions for English subtitles.)

Hoshi might be dealing with universal themes in his work, but I decided to be selfish and apply my own projection on it anyway: does the departed really benefit from death?

If we look at it as a trial, the departed ends up somewhere not in this world. Everything about her and her world is so categorically changed it becomes impossible for her to find any lessons to learn from this ‘experiment’. After all, you don’t die more than once.

So here is a new definition: death is the failure from which you yourself cannot learn anything. Others might, through postmortem. But you can’t.

Futile failure is death.

We deal with failure all the time in our lives, and especially here at Sheraa with startups. We teach people to embrace the Silicon Valley mantra of “dare to fail” and “fail fast”. But if we aren’t sure that they understand the second part of the equation, that failure is a heavy price that we pay so willingly to buy an even more valuable knowledge, they would just continue to fail in vain and be happy with the “being true to the entrepreneur’s mantra” tag.

In the passionate hype of failure, it’s easy to forget that your real goal should be to succeed. That failure should be a stepping stone designed in a way so that you could learn from it.

Samuel Beckett once wrote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” We need to be careful about this so that we don’t end up trying to beat time in a rigged game, where you’d call on those whom you try to save, administer charcoal and do CPR over and over and over, with all the sincerity and desire in the world, until your fingers bleed, and you would still fail.

This is charcoal. It’s not gray. It’s not black. But it has a slight shade of light to it which I like to see as a reminder that if we were to fail, then our failure must be intelligently designed so that we could fail better the next time.