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9 Examples of a Failure To Recognize Failure

A failure to recognize failure is the continuation of a strategy, investment and effort that will ultimately fail to produce expected results. Failure is an inherent part of life that can produce positive results in the long run by teaching us things, revealing new paths and shaping us. In order to recover from failure in positive ways, it must first be recognized. As such, a failure to recognize failure is a dangerous and costly flaw that is common in both organizations and individual behavior. The following are illustrative examples of a failure to recognize failure.

Failure is Not An Option

But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.
― Ernest Hemingway
Failure is not an option is the strategy of intentionally ruling out failure. For example, if you are landing an aircraft with 800 passengers on board you may say to yourself -- I can't screw this up right now. This is powerful strategy as there are moments in life where you really do need to perform. However, large organizations with virtually unlimited resources sometimes use failure is not an option as a strategy of ignoring failures that have already occurred such that they try to force things to work by pouring money and resources into them. This can become bizarrely costly and dysfunctional.

Resistance to Change

To say goodbye is to die a little.
― Raymond Chandler
People tend to value stability or view the past as more pleasant than the future such that they resist change. Any change to long standing systems will encounter this type of resistance even if it is clear the established system is failing. For example, a large firm in the 1970s that begins to transition to computerized accounting that faces resistance from accounting teams that claim this is impossible with various logical arguments for why existing processes can't be changed.


Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.
― Mark Twain
Those who are immersed in the day to day details of something may become overfocused to the extent that they don't see the bigger picture. For example, a project team that is busy doing work and clearing issues such that nobody performs a sanity check to ask -- does this project make any sense whatsoever?


Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
― Mark Twain
Denial is a coping mechanism whereby powerfully negative emotions are avoided by simply ignoring inconvenient information. This has many flavors such as cherry picking designed to support what you want to believe as opposed to what might be reasonable to believe.


All extremes of feeling are allied with madness.
― Virginia Woolf
The obsessive don't care if something is failing they feel compelled to act towards it anyway. There is some line between healthy persistence and dark obsession. One aspect of this line is retaining the ability to judge that your actions remain reasonable.

Creeping Failure

Things are going to get a lot worse before they get worse.
― Lily Tomlin
A failure that occurs slowly such that it is relatively easy to ignore. For example, a city that allows pollution to get slightly worse and worse such that each decline in quality of life isn't dramatic enough to cause much corrective action.


If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, it would have recollapsed before it reached its present size. On the other hand, if it had been greater by a part in a million, the universe would have expanded too rapidly for stars and planets to form.
― Stephen Hawking
A singularity is a dramatic change that happens instantly at a point in time. For example, a bridge that is stable with 30 tons of vehicles but that suddenly and dramatically fails at 30.0000001 tons. Such a bridge could be a design failure that isn't recognized until the singularity actually occurs.

Pyrrhic Victory

There are many victories worse than a defeat.
― George Eliot
A pyrrhic victory is an initial victory that ultimately leads to your defeat. For example, an ambitious software developer who successfully outcompetes their peers to get a promotion into a role in which they are completely incompetent such that they are ultimately let go.

Trough of Sorrow

When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.
― Walt Disney
The trough of sorrow is a long period of poor results that often occurs when you are working on something big. In this period you will be misunderstood as a failure when in fact you may be on the verge of a large scale success. Identifying the difference between true failure and the trough of sorrow can be extremely difficult as little data is available in the trough of sorrow such that one has to know they are doing the right thing based on first principles.
Overview: Failure To Recognize Failure
The continuation of a strategy, investment and effort that will ultimately fail to produce expected results.
Related Concepts


This is the complete list of articles we have written about failure.
Fail Well
Good Failure
Human Error
Risk Exposure
Risk Management
Risk Taking
Types Of Error
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The definition of failure with examples.

Failure Types

The good, the bad and the ugly of failure.

Creeping Failure

When success is secretly a large failure.

Fail Well

The right and wrong way to fail.

Good Failure

An overview of good failure with specific examples.

Words For Problems

A list of common ways to describe problems.


The common types of error with examples.

Examples of Problems

An overview of common types of problems.

Types Of Error

The common types of error with examples.

Risk Taking

The definition of risk taking with examples.


An overview of safety with examples.

Risk Meaning

The meaning of risk with examples.

Risk Measurement

An overview of different ways to measure risk with examples.

Risk Impact Examples

A list of common risk impacts with a few detailed examples.

Good Risk Examples

An overview of good risk with examples.

Courage Quotes

A few quotes about courage.

Safety Needs

An overview of safety needs with examples.
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