Further to my earlier blog on the topic of ‘Failure’ I’ve recently been re-reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.
On the face of it, this is a book about a sailor whose dream of catching the biggest Marlin is sadly dashed, his failure captured by every mouthful the sharks eat of his catch, as he slowly tries to guide it back to land.
But is it really a book about failure?
It’s sad, for sure. Santiago, the fisherman and sailor, is a sad and – by the end – a distressed and fragile figure. His catch, strapped to the side of his boat, is now just a fleshless skeleton and he, surviving for days without food or water, is sick and weather-beaten. But, that skeleton – all 18 feet of it, with a “handsome, beautifully formed” tail – is itself evidence of his achievement and of the battle he fought. As the last sentence states all too clearly: he is still “dreaming about lions” and, indeed, through the boy sitting by his bedside, he has a companion through whom he can share and pass-on his experiences.
As my earlier blog stated, identifying and celebrating ‘failure’ risks privileging the notion of being wrong and being right (in the same way that ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good’). Innovation and improvement are not always about getting things right or getting things wrong – there’s a learning process here and even when one feels beaten, it’s important to acknowledge achievements and to learn. And of course, one should never give up dreaming about cats!