When I was a kid, I frequently tried to explain to my parents why video games were very important to my development. I vividly remember discussing this in second grade over a shared Ecto Cooler with a classmate who helped me structure an argument around hand-eye coordination improvement. It was a valiant effort, but it fell short.
Recently, after watching Edge of Tomorrow – the Tom Cruise action-packed version of Groundhog Day – it became clear to me that there are very few opportunities in life to fail freely and start over until you get it right (the premise of both movies). This is the crux of many of the popular video games I grew up playing: Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, The Legend of Zelda, and even Grand Theft Auto allow you to attempt to achieve a goal and build expertise through repetitive failure until you advance.
What’s markedly different about this form of advancement is that you fail upwards – you practice by exploring and failing, mostly in the form of death or a “lost life,” and you emerge wiser and slightly closer to defeating the level and your goal.
Playing video games, at least when I was a kid, was a very personal challenge. Most of the games I grew up playing had single player levels. You could practice a video game without any external interference or judgment. Unlike sports, where your level of achievement is relative to the others you are playing against (and with), video games were a challenge of self vs. computer – and ultimately a challenge of self vs. self. This allowed for the ultimate level of failure acceptance due to the lack of social pressure or competition involved in the usual externalities of a public failure.
If you ask any entrepreneur how important the ability to fail is in building a company or product, most will tell you it is paramount. To succeed as an entrepreneur, one must fail forward – only through testing, building and scrapping can true product market fit and success be achieved. You have to be fearless. You have to accept failure, embrace it, turn it around and transform it into success. Without failure nothing happens.
For things to be interesting, in video games or in business, there has to be a balance of failure as a setback vs. failure as an endpoint. In video games, failure usually means that you are given another opportunity from a restarting point to try again. This time however, you are armed with knowledge of how to navigate the path ahead, allowing the player to make smarter, more informed decisions.
Other generations may have missed out on the culture of failure we older bracket millennials take for granted – but it is never too late to take a hard look at what happens when you fail as an entrepreneur – the next time you hit the same course, you are better equipped to get yourself to the next checkpoint or milestone before it is time to fail again.