Anand Sukumaran Nair
Startup Founder, Software Engineer, Abstract thinker
Co-founder, Engineering @ Engagespot
No. “Keep on trying” won’t guarantee success.Oct 19, 2021
Photo by Denis Degioanni on Unsplash
Work Hard. Fail & Repeat = Success!
Well, we all know that is not true in a direct sense. Definitely, this mathematical expression shouldn’t use the ‘=’ (equals) operator. Instead, ∝ (Directly Proportional To) would be more accurate.
Because, working hard, failing, and repeating wouldn’t “guarantee” success, but it definitely improves the chance of becoming successful.
Why do some people achieve exceptional success while others keep failing? After reading several scientific research publications and stories, I’m summarising some of the important factors that make exceptional success really exceptional, with the help of a mathematical expression.
So, let us re-write the expression as -
X*Actions ∝ Success (Amount of actions increases the chance of success)
What is Luck Surface Area?
I had shared a post on Linkedin about the importance of luck in success. There is something called “Luck Surface Area”, that you can control. Luck Surface Area is the probability of finding success. The more Luck Surface Area you have, the more likely you are to find success.
Instead of worrying about luck, increase your luck surface area. It is directly proportional to the “amount of action” you do.
That means, the more action you do, the more you can increase the odds luck will find you. And this holds true every time.
But it cannot guarantee success.
But why couldn’t “more action” guarantee success?
Well, even though increasing Luck Surface Area by increasing the amount of action improves the chances of being successful, that doesn’t mean people who do more action will always be successful. Some people will keep trying, failing, and repeating this cycle as best as they can but still cannot find success.
Why? Because there are several factors (known and unknown) that make finding success difficult.
Well, if we consider the mathematical expression above, there are many (almost infinite) variables that influence the outcome of the equation (Success).
And the problem is, we do not know all those variables (and we never will).
That’s why we cannot write the expression with an = (equals) sign. “Unknowns variables” will always be there.
So, Redefining our mathematical expression -
Action1 + Action2 + Action3 + ….(Several unknown actions) = Success (sum of several actions defines a successful outcome)
Please note that I’ve dramatically simplified this expression. A successful outcome can never be represented as a linear equation. But just for the sake of understanding, let it be.
Learning from Failure
With every failed attempt, we’ll uncover more variables and understand the weightage of these variables in influencing the success. So, the more we try, the more variables we get to know about them. And in the subsequent attempts, we’ll adjust the values of these variables to improve the odds of becoming successful.
Well, isn’t it easy? Just keep trying forever and then we’ll uncover all the variables at one point?
Unfortunately, No! This is where the tricky part comes into play.
This is what we call the “Ability to learn effectively from failures”. This was observed and proven in scientific research.
Though everyone will learn something from their failure, “how effectively we learn” from the failed attempt is very important.
The majority (surprisingly over 90%) of the people will never be able to pinpoint (or they simply misjudge) the exact cause of their failed attempts.
If we relate this to the mathematical expression we discussed, it means, most people cannot understand which variables worked, and which of them didn’t in a particular attempt.
Let’s consider this simple equation -
Action1 + Action2 + Action3 = Success
There are only three actions that influence success here.
After the first failed attempt, we looked at the equation and found that Action1 was wrong but Action 2 and 3 were right. So, in the next attempt, we’ll fix Action 1 and Done! We’re successful!
Simple? Yes, only because success was defined only by three actions in this equation.
But In the real world, there can be thousands of variables. How effectively we can “debug” and find which variables were right and which of them went wrong after every failed attempt? Due to this complexity, we combine “lessons learned” along with smart guesses to understand which variables to be modified in the next attempt.
And imagine what happens we misjudge at least one variable? We’re further complicating the process and decreasing our chance of being successful. Imagine the number of permutations and combinations this will produce? Even if there are only 100 variables (actions) in the equation, misjudging them can give rise to nonillion combinations or attempts to ensure that you’ll definitely be successful (Assuming that, every variable/action can either be “good” or “bad”). Want to know how big is that number?
Do you think you can do these many attempts before you die? Are you kidding? If you live to be 80 years old, even your heart would have beaten just 3,363,840,000 times.
This is what differentiates successful people from others.
The ability to effectively learn from their failed attempts.
Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. But with every failed attempt, he was learning what worked and what didn’t, very precisely! And he was narrowing down the list of “variables” that he doesn’t have to touch on in the next attempt, because those variables have been confirmed.
Even if you can fix one variable in the first try, the number of attempts get reduced to six hundred thirty-three octillion. Means, you’ve saved a lot of time that you would have spent to try 633 825 300 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 attempts!
What if you’ve figured out 80% of the variables in the first try itself? Now you just need to try 1048576 attempts to find success!
But, most people will find it difficult to narrow down the list of variables. They misjudge and keep changing even the right variables in their subsequent attempts, thus they’re wasting their time and unfortunately fall into the never-ending cycle of attempts!
Like I mentioned above, success or the outcome of any such real-life event cannot be simply explained with the help of a linear equation. But the idea was to explain why “keep trying” is not just the best advice.
Keep trying, but learn what worked, and what didn’t from every failed attempt, precisely. And in the subsequent attempt, do not touch the variables that worked, and keep playing with the remaining variables! Do not start from scratch every time.
Well if you ask me, how to be 100% right all the time in judging “variables”, Sorry, I do not think anybody will have an answer for that! :)