The epic FAIL fail

There was an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine this weekend about the metamorphosis of the word fail from verb to interjection. I know, I know, most of the computer-y world has been using the word in this way for quite some time (need some examples? go check out FailBlog). It’s old news.

trainFAILBut when the New York Times picks up on the meme, it means we have entered a different stage of acceptance altogether. It might be time to start paying attention before things get out of hand.

Anil Dash wrote an interesting post called The End of Fail a few months ago where he articulated some of the reasons why FAIL is such an ummm… FAIL for collaborative cultures.

Fail is over. Fail is dead. Because it marks a lack of human empathy, and signifies an absence of intellectual curiosity, it is an unacceptable response to creative efforts in our culture. “Fail!” is the cry of someone who doesn’t create, doesn’t ship, doesn’t launch, who doesn’t make things. And because these people don’t make things, they don’t understand the context of those who do. They can’t understand that nobody is more self-critical or more aware of the shortcomings of a creation than the person or people who made it.

When attempting to build a collaborative culture where innovation flourishes, the biggest enemy, as Tom Kelly has pointed out, is the Devil’s Advocate. I almost feel like the person who shouts FAIL is a worse member of the same species. At least the Devil’s Advocate brings some opposing ideas to the table. The FAILman delivers only judgment.

In the open source world, you often hear people say failure is a good thing. That failing fast is a sure sign of a project making healthy progress. My friend Karsten Wade wrote an interesting post on the subject earlier this year.

Does the threat of being branded with a FAIL verdict make the stakes for even fast failure higher? I think it probably does.

In the NYT Magazine article, Ben Zimmer points out that Twitter, with it’s 140 character limit, has probably done a lot for the popularity of FAIL. The power of using only 4 characters to render absolute judgment on someone’s hard work is enormous.

Sure FAIL is fun. FAIL is easy. But just remember when you use it that you may be doing permanent damage to someone’s life work. And you are probably reducing, by at least one, the number of people on the planet who might be interested in collaborating with you on your ideas.

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


One thought on “The epic FAIL fail

  1. Word, Chris, I coudlnt’ have put it better myself. Not to sound all Jed Purdy, but the more glib and dismissive we become, the more diminished we are. Let’s hear it for building things. Though tearing down shit is therapeutic, from time to time.

    Posted by Harkness | August 12, 2009, 9:27 am

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