The Dish

Samuel Beckett, Motivational Speaker

Mark O’Connell investigates how a line from Beckett’s Worstward Ho – “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” – has entered a “strange afterlife as a motivational meme” for the Silicon Valley set:

The entrepreneurial class has adopted the phrase with particular enthusiasm, as a battle cry for a startup culture in which failure has come to be fetishized, even valorized. Sir Richard Branson, that affable old sage of private enterprise and bikini-based publicity shoots, has advocated from on high the benefits of Failing Better. He breaks out the quote near the end of an article about the future of his multinational venture capital conglomerate, telling us with characteristic self-assurance that it comes “from the playwright, Samuel Beckett, but it could just as easily come from the mouth of yours truly.” …

Fail Better, with its TEDishly counterintuitive feel, is the literary takeaway par excellence; it’s usefully suggestive, too, of the corporate propaganda of productivity, with its appeals to “think different” or “work smarter” or “just do it.” And the fact is that these six telegraphic bursts of exhortation actually work pretty well as a personal motto, once that sanding and smoothing has been completed. They are also—and this is crucial, though obviously not something Beckett would have had in mind—eminently tweetable; the whole thing comes in at just 69 characters, which leaves people plenty of room for whatever commentary or show of approval they might want to append.