First, you’ll find the video version, and beneath that, the text version, if you so prefer.  It’s a bit more refined.  Give it a moment for Youtube to process.  It’ll also get sharper after processing.

The Havilland Comet. It was the worlds first commercial jet airliner in production, and first flew back in 1949. It was known as a landmark in British aeronautical design. It was one of a kind.

The chief test pilot John Cunningham, who was a famous wartime fighter pilot, commented “I assumed that it would change aviation”. And change aviation it did, although not in the way he expected.

The plane began to crash, repeatedly. More than once totally disintegrating over the ocean, killing all passengers on board.

After each crash the plane wreckage was investigated, while the engineers floundered to find out what was wrong. Each time, they failed to pin down what was causing these crashes, and inevitably, the plane would fly again, and soon there would be another crash.

Finally, in 1954, upon experiencing another crash, engineers submerged the entire airframe from one of these planes in the water, and then subjected it to repeated pressurization and over pressurization, upon which they found the culprit.

Catastrophic metal fatigue. But it wasn’t so much a manufacturing flaw, as it was a design flaw. You see, the Comet had square windows.

The window corners compromised the structural integrity of the plane, and when under the enormous pressure found in high-altitude performance, cracks would form at these window edges, eventually causing the whole structure to disintegrate.

Indeed, the Comet did change aviation history – now all jetliners have rounded windows and doors.

There are three important take-away’s from this.

1. The importance of structural integrity

Often, in our pursuit of what matters most (or just life in general), we are often subjected to extraordinarily high pressures, especially at times of peak performance. These are the times when everything seems to happen at once, when you’re the very busiest, when it matters the most, these are the times when the pressure is on.

If we find ourselves in these times, even the smallest design flaw, or error in planning, can compromise our structural integrity, or our ability to hold up under pressure.

It is imperative, for anyone who wants to do something meaningful, that you pay close attention to your own structural integrity BEFORE you find yourself in a position of peak performance pressure.

That leads us to the second point…

2. The importance of the Microcosm approach to accomplishment

Explained more fully here (The power of microcosms, Microcosms make you stronger, and Controlled failure, how to fail on your terms), the idea of a microcosm is simple. It’s a smaller-scale representation of something larger.

The microcosm approach to accomplishment suggests that the best way to perform well under high pressure, is to deconstruct your larger objective into a series of smaller skills, methods, and objectives, and then to work on perfecting these slowly, one at a time.

When I decided to run a marathon, I didn’t just go run 26 miles. I started small. When I set the goal to shoulder press 300 pounds, I didn’t just go load up the plates and try it out, that would have been suicide.

In physical performance, this model makes sense, but we tend to ignore it when it comes to other areas of accomplishment. If you want to win big, start by winning small first.

3. The importance of performance simulation

The final lesson to learn from this is the importance of creating simulated environments where we can test our ability to synthesize all the skills, abilities, and methods we perfected in the microcosm stage, but in a controlled environment where there’s less risk.

I didn’t say no risk, but less risk. In marketing you can do this by test marketing a product before pushing it out to the masses – you market a product first to a subset of the market to see how it is accepted.

This is done with brands and messaging by trying several different ads and gauging performance on each before settling on the one you use long term, to everyone.

Product managers do this by beta testing a product (allowing a few users to use it first) before releasing it to everybody.

Parents can do this with their kids by creating environments for them to succeed, but that allow them to test the principles of life, on a smaller scale, in a controlled setting (don’t forget to let them fail, that’s part of the process).

Whatever it is you are doing, there’s power in simulation. Had the Comet adequately simulated the rapid-scale re-pressurization their fuselages would have to go through during high-altitude performance BEFORE flight, dozens of lives would have been saved.


Abraham Lincoln encountered many failures, before becoming president

Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States

In 1831, Abraham Lincoln failed in business.

In 1832, Abraham Lincoln was defeated for state legislator.

In 1833, Abraham Lincoln tried a new business, and failed.

In 1835, Abraham Lincoln’s fiancée died.

In 1836, Abraham Lincoln had a nervous breakdown.

In 1843, Abraham Lincoln ran for congress and was defeated.

In 1848, Lincoln ran again, and was defeated. Again.

In 1855, Lincoln ran for the Senate, and lost.

In 1856, Lincoln ran for Vice President, and lost.

In 1859, Lincoln ran again for the Senate. He was defeated.

Then, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.

What matters most is not how many times you fail, but that you never stop trying.


Photo credit:
Alexander Gardner
Silver Gelatin Print
Color, James Nance
February 5, 1865
Washington D.C.
M-97, O-116
Copyright 2002 Nance

Unrestricted copyright usage from:

As I’ve continued writing my book, Escape Velocity, I keep thinking upon this notion of microcosms.

For more on what I call “The microcosm approach to success”, see the following two posts:

Making the most of microcosms (how to use microcosms to achieve large objectives)
Controlled Failure (how to fail on your terms)

There’s an additional point I thought I’d make though.

The Microcosm approach to success is about how to deconstruct larger objectives into smaller, more easily developed sets of skills, talents, tasks, and abilities, and then creating small, controlled environments where you can build those individually, with less risk.

But even if you don’t have something substantial you’re trying to achieve in life, there’s inherent value in living a life enriched by microcosms that challenge you. Mini-challenges if you will.

Some of that value is that we obtain an increased ability to cope with failure, as explained in the second post above. But what’s more, we begin to perfect the sets of skills required to accomplish things, even small things.

After all, the whole definition of a microcosm is a smaller representation of something larger.

When you have a life in which you frequently encounter small, controlled challenges, when life tosses you something big, something unforeseen, you’ll have already kept honed the skills and innate capacity to overcome it. You’ll just be applying it on a larger scale.

I think this is why people who frequently exercise, tend to face adversity with more optimism. Exercise, particularly weight lifting, is an ideal form of microcosmic challenges. Each day you’re forced to face fear, doubt, pain, and failure. In fact, you go into it with that in mind. That’s your objective.

But it doesn’t have to be weight lifting. The right hobbies can work the same way. They can challenge you in ways that prepare you for life’s larger challenges.

In short, microcosms make you stronger. If you don’t have a healthy dose of success microcosms in your life, I’d encourage you to find some. You’ll find that they leave you better prepared for life.


As I mention here, we should be failing on a regular basis. I want to fail. To not fail usually means I’m not pushing hard enough. Not trying new things. And there are vital lessons that we learn when we fail, and that can only be learned through failure.

The road to success is paved with past failures. Success doesn’t happen “all of a sudden”.

So I want to experience failure. But, I want to do it on my own terms. On small-scale endeavors, where the risk is low and controlled.

This is a fringe benefit of the microcosm approach to accomplishment, explained here. First, you deconstruct a larger goal, vision, or objective into smaller components. Then create microcosms for yourself to recreate those components in smaller, more manageable endeavors. By doing this, when you fail (and you occasionally will, or should if they’re challenging enough), you ensure that the failures happen on your terms. When it doesn’t matter as much, or when there’s less risk.

By taking this approach to controlled failure, you gain several benefits. The first, of course is that by failing on the small stuff, and learning your lessons, you’re less likely to fail on the big stuff, when it really matters.

The second, is that you learn how to cope with failure. You learn to see it for what it is, a means to an end. Failure is put in perspective, as part of the path to growth, as opposed to something personal. It’s not an indication that you’re worthless, that you’re no good, that you’re doomed and should just give up. It’s an indication that you’re fighting a good fight, that you’re challenging yourself, and that you still have work to do.

In a way you become desensitized to failure. By intentionally making it a more frequent component of your life (in the manner of your choosing), you become more objective about it. You’re better able to separate yourself from the equation, and approach it more analytically. You’ll learn more from it, because you’ll have the benefit of both frequency and objectivity.

By making controlled failure a more common component of your life, you’re less prone to negatively react to larger failures that you’ll inevitably encounter. You’ll be more apt to respond positively, retain your optimism, and have the faith and self confidence to persevere.

Whereas if who avoid failure by avoiding circumstances where you may fail, sure you’ll experience failure less frequently, but that only makes it all the more severe and emotionally destructive when you do.

So don’t fear failure. Don’t shy away from it. Embrace it, but do it on your terms, using the microcosm approach to accomplishment.


A microcosm is just a small version of something much larger. It’s usually very similar in the most important regards, but much simpler.

Kindergarten, for instance, is a microcosm of college (the macrocosm).

You couldn’t drop off a kid in college and expect them to do well. They must first survive a number of preparatory microcosms, each one progressively more difficult, before they’re ready for the largest educational institute we have to offer.

Superbowl champions don’t start with Superbowl games. They start with practice (usually at a very young age).

To do something big, try working up to it by degrees.

Find or manufacture microcosms of your larger challenge. Smaller challenges that are similar in key ways. Look at your larger goal and deconstruct the strengths, skills, and abilities you know you’ll need to succeed, and then take on those components individually, in smaller, more manageable, less risky settings. Make them harder and harder as you progress.

As you begin to win on small levels, you’ll become increasingly prepared to win on a much larger level.

With each microcosmic success you’ll build strength, you’ll build skills, you’ll build experience, and most importantly, you’ll build confidence.

The confidence you build by taking the microcosm approach will become the foundation for your life. Each success adds a brick to your ever-growing confidence foundation.

That confidence foundation will keep you motivated to achieve ever larger goals, and reach ever greater heights, and will help you persevere when times are tough.

If you want to win big, try winning small first.


As human beings, we tend to fall victim to the “all of a sudden” syndrome.

All of a sudden I’m out of shape.
All of a sudden my finances are a wreck.
All of a sudden my product is late.
All of a sudden a relationship is broken.
All of a sudden I’m addicted.
All of a sudden the year is gone.
All of a sudden my business has failed.
All of a sudden my kids are grown.

But things rarely happen “all of a sudden”. They happen incrementally, by degrees, slowly, over time.

The problem is, we usually don’t see them happening, until “all of a sudden” it’s too late.

The changes are so small, so gradual, that they don’t register on our warning screen. They’re usually too minute to be caught by whatever measurement mechanisms we have in place (see “Do you measure yourself?”), until all of a sudden the change is so great, we can’t NOT notice.

This is called “change blindness”, when we’re so focused on the scene as a whole that we fail to see small (and sometimes not-so-small), but important things that change within the scene.

This happens all of the time in every aspect of our lives. It’s also known as entropy (here).

But this “all of a sudden” effect works both ways. The guy that climbs everest? That didn’t happen all of a sudden. Successful products don’t just appear out of nowhere. Companies don’t just all of a sudden become successful.

When I run a marathon, I don’t just all of a sudden wake up and run 26 miles. If I’m going to hit my goal of bench pressing 400 pounds, I won’t just all of a sudden go in and load up the bar and try it. I’d kill myself.

If you have a large goal (and you should – see “Are you failing on a regular basis”), then you won’t get there all of a sudden. You’ll get there in stages, through a sustained series of gradual, incremental achievements.

“Through small and simple means are great things brought to pass”.

So don’t hold yourself to unrealistic expectations, or all you’ll get are disappointments. Rather commit yourself to moving forward, just a little, every day.

Henry Wadsworth Longellow wisely penned the following, in his motivational poem, “A Psalm of Life”:

Not enjoyment, and not sorry,
is our destined end, or way.
But to act, that each tomorrow,
find us farther, than today.

They key to avoiding the negative “all of a sudden” experiences, and increasing the positive ones, is to reduce the scale of your measurement.

You’ve got to be aware of not just milestones, but DIRECTION. It’s the direction that is the key. It is the direction of your momentum that determines your destination. Because things are always evolving, either for the better, or for the worse.

What you have to do, as an individual, organization, parent, or whatever, is to ask yourself regularly what direction your evolution is taking you.

And be honest in your answers.


I hope you answered yes.

Because if you answered no, then it means you’re not trying hard enough. You’re not trying new things. You’re not pushing yourself. You may have even become complacent. So comfortable with where you are, that you’ve established a life of stasis.

Stasis is a state of inactivity, or equilibrium. If you find yourself waking up and just going through the motions, you’re in stasis. If you find yourself without a vision, without goals, without something you’re aching to do, then you’re in stasis. If you don’t have something burning inside you, you’re in stasis. If there’s no big problem you’re trying to work out, you’re in stasis.

These are the plateaus of life, and if you’re not careful, you can end up there for a very long time. In fact, some never escape.

But a life of equilibrium is one simultaneously devoid of all the ingredients that make life so exciting. The thrill of a new endeavor, the passion of committing yourself to a vision, the exuberance of accomplishing something you set out to achieve, and the personal growth that comes from the process of pushing yourself.

These are the emotions of those engaged in a great cause. This is the vista from the mountains of purpose.

People tend to view failure as weakness. But I think it’s the other way around. If struggles make you stronger, what does it mean if you’ve stopped struggling?

Failure is merely an indication that you’re struggling, progressing, and getting stronger. So stop worrying about your failures. Appreciate them for what they are, and enjoy the value of the lessons they hold.

Then get back up and keep moving.


A larger vision

“Don’t get your hopes up” the world so often says.  Being hopefully optimistic leaves you open to disappointment, and the result?  Hope aversion.

But naturally optimistic and hopeful people tend to achieve more.  Look at most of the people that you know who are high achievers.  In general they’re dreamers, inherently optimistic people who catch a vision and drive for it. They dare to think big, aim high, and reach for records.  They’re not held hostage by reality, but see things not for what they are, but what they could be.

Going all the way

“Be realistic”, is all too often associated with holding back effort.  It usually means “don’t get too attached”.  But attachment is exactly what propels the optimist to drive harder, to push farther, to commit, to take risks, and those are the very things that lead to success.  To them the vision is almost tangible, they let themselves get sucked in, attached, and that keeps them going when everybody else gives up.

Path finding

The path to any valuable objective is bound to be fraught with challenges.  A realist looks at those challenges and sees roadblocks, but an optimist sees only the paths around them.  They lose little time focusing on the challenges themselves, for they’re too captivated by the possible alternatives that may lead to the destination.  This focus on the destination allows them to move maneuver more nimbly, more quickly, and with more surety.

Not afraid to try

Finally, as I talked about yesterday in “Reconciling hope and disappointment“, a realist sees failure as terminal.  To them, failure means they need to adjust their view of reality, rather than keep trying, for disappointment should be avoided.  To them, to hope is to risk.  But the hopeful optimist is fueled by failure.  They don’t see failure as disappointment (nor, in truth, as failure), but rather an indication to try something else, some new approach.  And the more attached they are to their vision, the more they’re willing to keep trying.

Look at all the breakthrough’s we have experienced as a people, and ask yourself if those were led by realists, focusing on what is “realistic”, or by optimists, hoping for the realization of a dream.  Would we have ever walked on the moon?  Would we have ever flown at all?  Would we be able to peer millions of light years into space?  Would we have the miracles of medicine that we have today?  Would we have computers that can process unthinkable amounts of data in unthinkable amounts of time and that can form a vast global, interconnected network on which any person, anywhere can start a blog and talk to the world?  Would we have any of the rich media sources we have now?   The list could go on indefinitely.

None of these would be possible without the pricelessly propelling power of hope.  Hope brings dreams to reality.  Hope makes the impossible, possible.

If so many miracles are made reality by simply choosing to hope, what kind of changes would be possible in your life if you too, decided to see it not for what it is, but for what it could be?


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