Bioethics Blogs

Dare to Fail

by Craig M. Klugman


  1. The fact of becoming exhausted or running short, giving way under trial, breaking down in health, declining in strength or activity, etc.
  2. The act of failing to effect one’s purpose; want of success; an instance of this. (Oxford English Dictionary 2015, entry 67663)

There is not enough failure in our modern world. I am not talking about the kind of failure that comes from not trying or being neglectful, but rather the failure that comes from working hard to achieve a goal and not making the mark.

If one does not fail, then one has not tried to excel. If you succeed at 100% of everything you do, then you have stayed within your safe zone—of areas of excellence you already know. To fail means to reach beyond what you know you can do, to stretch your skills and abilities, and to try to achieve more. And yes, we often miss that mark. But that failure motivates us to try again, to approach the task differently, and to become more than we currently are.

In a 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, the author Amy C. Edmondson suggests that there is a spectrum of failure. Type I failures are the fault of the individual who attempted the task. Such failure may be caused by deviance (violating a practice or process), inattention, or lack of ability. Type II failures are externally caused because of the way the task is designed or explained: a faulty process, a too challenging task, or a complex process.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.