Failure must be avoided at all costs, or so we humans are conditioned to believe. It starts early: straight As on a report card from school, a perfect 10 in a diving competition or a first-place blue ribbon on a science project are all examples of how failing to fail can garner praise or reward.

Failure can, however, be its own reward. Sure, it is one way to ensure the swift ending of a painful project. It also can provide the inspiration needed to step away from the old way of doing something by trying something new. How many iterations of an invention are tossed onto the reject pile before success is realized?

At Hart Energy’s DUG Eagle Ford conference in San Antonio, I had the pleasure of speaking with a drilling engineer who had made the transition from offshore to onshore operations. He mentioned how risk is perceived in the industry as negative if success was not the initial result. It’s what I’ve heard called the “everybody lines up to purchase Serial Number 002 if Serial Number 001 was successful” rule of equipment manufacturing. He said the industry needs to give itself permission to fail, citing the current revitalization of the offshore oil and gas space as a key example.

The focus of this month’s issue is on the digital transformation underway in the oil and gas industry, a transformation that is delivering real change to the value chain. For example, it is inspirational to see the time savings and reduced “windshield” time that real-time field monitoring applications have delivered. Quickly fading are the days when a field operator would drive from well to well, checking fluid levels and pressure fluctuations on a strip chart and more.

However, for every successful deployment of a monitoring system, there’s significant time spent working through a process of trial and error to ensure the system runs optimally. For every successful digital transformation project scaled up and made operational, there are many that have stalled out. Of the five steps McKinsey & Co. list for successful scale-up of a project, “making technology your enabler, not your bottleneck” is the step that stands out most. Multiple projects come to mind where the technology didn’t quite exist just yet, but after a few years—or decades even—the technology arrives and the bottleneck clears.

There’s no harm in failing, except in failing to start.