Start Failing Immediately

Ten steps to put you on the path to success

It’s common for entrepreneurs and thought leaders to advocate the benefits of failure. Failure, they say, is an opportunity to learn valuable lessons. This is true — and yet we continue to fear it.

I’ve failed at virtually everything I’ve ever attempted. The only time I got something right first time was when I was born, and if I’m honest I suspect the credit for that lies elsewhere.

I’m proud to have failed consistently and comprehensively, in a multitude of ways, under a plethora of pseudonyms. It was only after processing my failures that I could visualize what success looked like, and plan how to navigate towards it.

I need to tell you that unless you are willing to fail as often and as completely as me, you will never learn enough to achieve success.

I realise how harsh this sounds, so I’m going to offer you the benefit of my experience in the shape of my ten-step blueprint for failure. There are two conditions, however:

Condition one: You must complete the following ten steps within the next six months. Take any longer and your failure will be neither comprehensive nor intensive. It must be both.

Condition two: You must use zeal.

While some of these measures may seem unorthodox in the short term, I’m confident this robust framework can add unique lifetime value and put you on the path to the success you deserve (assuming you do deserve it; not everyone does).

1. Quit your job and form a company, right now. Worry about what purpose the company will serve later. I shake my head — and tut — when I think of how many successful companies have never come into being, just because their non-founders were unable to think of a mission for the firms to fulfill. Me? I own twenty-seven companies. Not one of them has ever turned a profit, mainly because they have never produced or traded anything. In conventional business terms this means they are technically all failures. Spiritually, however, each company is lean and hungry for success.

2. Have you ever had an idea for a book? Did you think about quitting your job in order to write it? Sure you did. But you didn’t follow through. Why?

Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the financial implications. Fear that your dream about a magic green spoon, or what have you, wasn’t substantial enough to sustain the narrative of a readable novel.

A life lived in fear is a life half-lived (and half-not-lived). Quit your job tomorrow and write your novel about a magic green spoon. You’re a coward if you don’t, and do you know where cowards live? In fear, all year round. The weather is awful.

3. You might think you’re unable to swim across the Bay of San Francisco, and, in all likelihood, you’re right. But do you know you’re right? No, because you haven’t learned that yet.

There’s only one way to find out for sure, and that’s to pull on your swim shorts, grease yourself up in goose fat, and dive in. Notify the coastguard beforehand, and also your boss, because another part of this step is to quit your job if you haven’t done that already. Why haven’t you done that already?

4. Do you ever wish you were more creative with your hands? Anyone can write a novel (see above), but it takes real, tactile skill to carve an ornate love seat out of maple and lacquer it in maple glaze. Or maybe you’ve always fantasized about building a boat out of tin, or whatever it is boats are made of.

What you want to make, and what you make it out of, is not important. What’s important is that you make the thing, out of the stuff, and quit your job. Do it now, or I swear to God you’ll have a heart attack before the month is out.

(I’m assuming you survived step three.)

5. Have you ever written, produced and directed a movie? Why not, for Christ’s sake? Quit your job and do that. I’m not saying you’re going to be the next Steven Spielderbergh, and I’m not saying it’s going to be easy on your bank balance. But what’s the cost of not doing it? Your soul. And once that’s gone, you can’t pick up another second-hand.

6. Hang-gliding, surfing, Kabaddi. Pick one and attempt to become the best in the world at it (after quitting your job). If you don’t, you’re wasting bodily resources for which a less able person would fight you, were they sufficiently dexterous.

If you have a spouse/children/pets, it is at this point that you must leave him/her/them/them.

7. There’s a project at work you’ve been rolling around your mind for a while now, isn’t there? You know the one. We’ve all got them — those passion projects that can be hard to get off the ground because of the doomsayers with no imagination, the spirit-suckers, the accountants.

Well, guess what: I’ve told you several times to quit your job already, so I don’t know why you’re even still thinking about work. I said it no more than a minute ago. Read back a few lines and you’ll see I’m right. I told you to quit your job and write your novel about an enchanted whisk, or whatever it was, and then build a cabin. Remember? What am I, talking Australian here?

Failing to listen is not the kind of failure I’m talking about with all this stuff.

8. There has never been an easier to time to write and produce a chart-topping pop single. You have a computer and the internet, probably, neither of which were available to Color Me Badd. (OK, they might have had a computer, but only for games.) Are you happy knowing Color Me Badd succeeded at something you haven’t even attempted?

You must devote a high percentage of your time and resources to this task. Be sure to quit your job. You should be able to split your time between producing your smash hit and constructing your... what was it again? A treehouse?

9. Create a meal out of whatever you have in your kitchen at this moment. Invite all your friends over to share it with you. If any of them appear displeased with what’s on offer, show them the door. Then open the door, usher them through the hole where the door usually is, and close the door so that they are now outside the door. They are impeding your creativity and deserve none of your time or food. Even your best friend. Especially your best friend. Quit your job, too.

10. (I’m assuming that by this point you will have quit your job.) Start learning a new language and recite a work of Shakespeare one week later in that language, in a public place. A train station or library will be fine. It’s up to you which work you choose to recite, but no sonnets. Sonnets are shortcuts, and shortcuts are for shitweasels. Are you some kind of shitweasel?

Once you have followed my steps to the letter, and floundered miserably in the face of each one, your failure will be total and utter. Intense, repetitive incompetence can be disorienting for some, so if you feel a little out of sorts on completion of the ten steps don’t sweat it too much. It just means your moxie is somewhat deficient and maybe you shouldn’t have quit your job, left your family, etc.

Anyway, now embrace the feeling of absolute failure, and visualize it. What does it look like? Ideally, it will take the form of a dark, dark hole with no bottom — it’s the blackest dark you’ve ever seen — in which you can just make out your hopes and dreams as they fall away and disappear for ever. An abyss of sorts.

Or it might resemble, like, a ghoul. What was that movie with Kevin Bacon, with ghouls in the floor? You know the one? Was it Ghouls?

Now visualize success. What does that look like? Perhaps it’s you, standing on top of the world. Maybe it’s a really nice cake, or hat. Or possibly it’s less well-defined; sort of, a smudge of yellow, or something. I don’t know, success looks different to different people.

Can you see it? Can you see what success looks like? If the answer’s yes, I offer you my congratulations. You can now start working towards making that success a reality. How you do that is kind of up to you. I’m not going to do it all for you. Not for free, anyway.

If the answer’s no, then I don’t know exactly where you went wrong, but you obviously didn’t follow the steps closely enough. I mean, I think I was pretty clear. I was like, ‘do this, then do this, then do this.’ How hard is that? Just follow the steps, like I said.

I don’t know why you couldn’t just follow the steps.

You. You don’t deserve success.