Can we do better than the word FAIL

By Ralph Samwell

Back at Uni I had a friend that I teased because, although he achieved top marks in every math exam without ever revising, he failed to get a perfect mark in physics. He countered my teasing by saying; "physics not true test of intelligence, it requires too much English."

The reason I relay this story is your word 'fail'.

Nobody really fails. Best book on this is Ben Hogan's autobiography if you want a sporting reference. Is Michael Jordan a failure when he is at 20% dip? Is your child a failure when they have their first fall, when learning to stand?

There was no hot-hand, when Magic Johnson just can't miss his free throws. It's an illusion. It's just percentage clumping, the most practiced elongate the success clumping and reduce the dry spells, as to when they happen, is purely random, as in spinning a coin for heads and tails. It's called the 'power law' in physics terms.

If you want to get Yoda philosophical, 'The only failure is not learning the lesson. There is no try [or fail]. It's do or do not do.'

We do what we know, when we know better, we do better. If we can only do what we know and if we are successful in achieving what we know, then we can't have failed.

Problem comes with 'desired outcome'. Unfortunately, we have through language conflated future desire with failure. A failure to predict. Like anyone has a crystal ball. Truth is success is 'correct predictive outcome'.

'If you guess right, you're an expert, if wrong, a failure'.

Koby Bryant put it well when asked: "What type of athlete are you, hate too loose or love to win." His answer shocked the interviewer. He said, 'Neither. Winning and losing are illusions.'

In biomechanical terms; 'there is no bad movement, just movement done badly.'

There is no failure, just inefficient or ineffective process. Any athlete is only improving accuracy through efficiency through repetition, fitness is just efficiency over increased space/time. It's the journey, not the destination, process goals, not outcome goals. It's not heaven or God, it's the journey to what-ever that means to you.

A final note to make, which seems obvious, is that when using the word fail, some information about the system is lost. Whether that piece of information is crucial or superfluous depends on the context and that particular application of the system. In other words, Meaning! It is always essential to have the assumptions behind every meaning in mind. Many systems failures are the result of a particular simplification technique being used successfully in one context and then being misapplied in another context in which the missing information is critical.

In sporting terms, what that means is, sport is a 'results confidence game' and so we incorrectly go to words like fail and success, mistake and deliberate. When in actual fact, it's about probability, it's high with elite athletes and lower with the not so.

Words like failure, being an end product give it a finality where nothing can be done about it, a label to stick on an athlete.

"Eventually, everything we currently believe will be revised. What we believe now is necessarily untrue, [we just haven't proved it yet]. [therefore] we can only believe in things that are not the truth... I think." Max Guyll