Evidently Churchill said this. I’m not sure where or when. It’d be nice to think he said this during the darkest hours of WWII, but for all I know it might’ve been at some conference in the 50s (kind of like Eisenhower’s “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”).
It’s an interesting quote. I think most people take this to mean “don’t give up” or “hang in there”. That was how I initially viewed this. However, I think there’s a better, more constructive way of looking at this, especially from the perspective of a startup.
Failure is active
“Going from failure to failure” is not just about enduring hardship passively. Failure is something active. It comes after actually trying to do something. It only happens after real effort. You can’t go from failure to failure by sitting around and waiting for something to happen. “Achieving failure” is real work.
Failure is also a public thing. Others can see it. In fact, others must see it because if no one sees it, you didn’t really fail—failure is a kind of social interaction. Sending e-mails to potential customers without getting responses doesn’t count as failure–maybe they were on vacation, maybe their e-mail filter stopped your message, maybe your message got lost in the hundreds of new messages they got that day. However, when you talk to someone in person and they tell you they don’t need your product, that’s the kind of failure you need to reach, the kind of failure that gives you the opportunity to go to the next failure enthusiastically. This type of failure teaches you something: your message was off, or your ROI assumptions were too strong, or the problems you’re solving aren’t important, etc. Whatever it is, you can use this to improve for next time.
When can you ever fail?
“True failure” happens when you’re too scared to try. It comes when we don’t want to look stupid or wrong. “True failure” stems from a fear of failing.
When do you ever really “succeed”?
When you go from failure and strive for the next failure, sometimes you fail to fail. I think that counts as success 🙂