The Hidden Side of Success


Gary Monroe Lecture at FIU


“Failure is just one more iteration toward success.”

We hear this type of talk all the time, well at least I do. But the question is why is this so? Why are people so eager to embrace failure in all of its forms? Well because failure is embedded into their system of  thinking about success .

Last week I attended a lecture by photographer Gary Monroe where he discussed  his body of work on Miami Beach and Haiti during the late 70’s through the 80’s. During his talk he explained that he had shot, and actually still shoots, in black and white film. Most of the shots he takes don’t really come out right for what ever reason, he uses up a lot of film to just get in a few good shots. He gave out some percentages of what he thought was his ratio of good to bad shots something like 20% are shots he can use, the others not. Lets think about this, he fails 80% of the time, wow 80%.

Same thing happens in software development. Many times a brute force algorithms is used to solve some problems. Brute force meaning, just try as many possible combinations and see which one gets close to an acceptable answer. This is the way many early calculators would solve math problems, basically guess until you get close. As you can see failure is built into the solution, you must fail many times to succeed. Failure is hidden in the success.

However, the calculator does not show you how many guesses it took to get an approximation to the correct answer, it just shows you the correct answer, and every one is happy. The guessing is done behind the scenes at lighting speed by the processor, almost instantaneously, as far as we are concerned. Just like you don’t see 80% of the bad shots that Gary takes, we only see a fraction, the 20% , the good ones.

Because failure happens behind the scene we don’t get a real appreciation for what it takes to succeed.  We may think that its easier than it actually is, and when we are hit with our first roadblocks or first failure we think something is wrong, that we are not good enough or that our idea is not good enough. Real life is a bit messy and we don’t iterate at lightning speed, our feelings and emotions sometimes get the better of us. We all are afraid to feel the sting of failure, but we must be courageous  enough to move forward despite our fears. But the lesson is real, we must try many times, basically the brute force algorithm, at solving a problem to get it right. Think of Edison’s battery experiments, it involved over 10,000 experiments with different chemicals and materials to develop his alkaline storage battery.  When asked he said; “I found 10,000 ways that the battery did not work”.

So in short, lets keep on trying, moving forward through the adversity, the failures, we will succeed if we do not give up, as failure is the hidden side of success.


Gary Monroe, is professor of fine arts and photography. The author of numerous books, including The Highwaymen. Also featured along with Andy Sweet in the documentary “The last Resort”



5 thoughts on “The Hidden Side of Success

  1. I was also thinking of how humans, unlike processors, get hurt by each failure. Our sense of preservation tells us to stop trying to avoid this “hurt.” But it’s part of growing pains, and like you conclude, we must keep trying. Great Article!


  2. Like how you used Gary Monroe’s photography as an example of the 80/20 rule. BTW “The Last Resort” is a good documentary of a Miami Beach that is now a memory.

    Renee, I’m enjoying your posts.


    1. Thank you Barbara for bringing the 80/20 rule to my attention great observation, I actually had not though of it that way, but that is so true. BTW I also loved the documentary The last Resort, I grew up on Miami Beach during that time so I remember how it was. Many of my photos today are of Miami Beach and the Deco and MIMO architecture.


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