Sunday Snippet: Alan Kay on Failure

“If you don’t fail at least 90 percent of the time, you’re not aiming high enough.”

A pioneer in object-oriented computer programming and window-based graphical user interfaces, Alan Kay is currently an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at UCLA. He has also been a senior fellow at HP Labs, a visiting professor at Kyoto University, and an Adjunct Professor at MIT. Kay has taken more than a few chances in his life, and while some of these didn’t quite pan out, many others went on to revolutionize the industry.

In the quote above, Alan Kay reminds us that no great reward can be achieved without the possibility of a great failure. You have to be willing to take your chances, even if there is an inherent risk to taking those chances. If you lull yourself into a sense of complacency and safety, you can only hope to strive for mediocrity.

It has been demonstrated time and time again that those who achieve greatness were never satisfied with mediocrity. They didn’t want to hit the middle of the road; they reached for the stars, knowing that they could easily fall short. Dare to be different. Take those calculated risks. Don’t be afraid to take the path less traveled by. Realize that impossible is nothing if you believe in yourself.

Above all else, Alan Kay is perhaps best known for this quote instead:

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Your destiny is what you make of it. It is absolutely true that we can’t know for certain what tomorrow may bring, but that doesn’t mean that you should sit idly by and just wait for things to happen. You need to line up those ducks on your own. Just remember to educate yourself along the way too:

“By the time I got to school, I had already read a couple hundred books. I knew in the first grade that they were lying to me because I had already been exposed to other points of view. School is basically about one point of view — the one the teacher has or the textbooks have. They don’t like the idea of having different points of view, so it was a battle.”

Life is never black and white. Understand the shades of grey and prepare yourself accordingly. What’s your perspective?