Failure Is Your Friend (Ep. 169 Rebroadcast)

Listen now:
(Photo: Jake Davis)

(Photo: Jake Davis)

This week’s Freakonomics Radio episode is a rebroadcast of the episode “Failure Is Your Friend” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

This is a natural followup to last week’s episode, “The Upside of Quitting.” Why are so many people so reluctant to quit projects or jobs or relationships that have soured? One reason, Stephen Dubner argues, is that we tend to equate quitting with failure, and there’s a huge stigma attached to failure. But … should there be? In their new book Think Like a Freak, Dubner and Steven Levitt  argue that perhaps we’re not thinking clearly about failure. Failure, they say, can be your friend:

LEVITT: I always tell my students — fail quickly. The quicker you fail the more chances you have to fail at something else before you eventually maybe find the thing that you don’t fail at.

Read more…


So one of two things happened. Either there was a bug on your website causing your website to overly display the ad for your book, and now it is fixed. Or, perhaps, there was a problem with my ipad, causing every click to take me to an ad for your book, and now it doesn't. Either way, there is no problem now, and if the fault was on your end, I thank you for clearing it up.


Gosh. The rocket launch part is really chilling. It's similar to the Hillsborough disaster in the fact that people who could have prevented it didn't. Except, of course, the police staged a huge cover up after Hillsborough.


as against "focusing on the goal?"


I quit my career to work toward a masters in an unrelated field. The lower-stress job I got while in classes was the most amazing job for me, and I met my now husband through it. Quitting was the right choice for me!

George Douglas

I love the content but I cannot listen because of the constant music in the background what is the reason for this, it is very annoying and distracting. It is like trying to talk to someone with the radio on in the background.

Is it possible to hear these interview without the music?


I have encountered the problem with the media player on the website quite often, really want someone to fix it out. Have you heard any others to report this issue?

Mike Votava

That song that starts playing near the 10:15 mark is AMAZING! I can't get it out of my head,


I am a English learner and I find it very helpful that Freakonomics Radio publishes audio and full transcript of its podcasts. I can read about very interesting topics and at the same time I can brash up on my listening and reading skills. Thanks a lot a please keep doing your great job....


Very interesting outlook. Definitley useful when working on new ideas for your life or in business.


I listened to your "Failure" podcast and was at once fascinated and disappointed to learn about the "pre mortem."

There is something in engineering called a "Failure Modes Effects and Criticality Analysis" (or FMECA). The purpose is to assess the design (before it is built), determine how it might (or will) fail, and rate the relative badness of each failure mode. The results can be used to redesign the product (to make it better or more robust) and/or used to determine how to maintain the product. For example the approach has been used extensively in aircraft design to establish maintenance and inspection cycles.

With that said, being a human-invented methodology, it is susceptible (like anything else) to failures due to human folly. Also, being invented to assess products, I'm not so sure about its applicability to human organizations (like NASA, for example).

Anyhow, I'll put this in the "things you didn't know that you didn't know" category ... keep up the good (and thought-provoking) work.