Saturday, June 25, 2011

Adventures in failure.

Wieden+Kennedy has been embracing failure since 1988. It's working. And, as the mural demonstrates, sometimes doing things the hard way is more meaningful.

Fail harder. Fail faster. Fail better. Fail forward. For the love of awesome, would you just get it over with and fail already?

Small failures are encouraged right now. In theory anyway. It's part of our rapid-prototyping-world-in-beta lifestyle. Get it out there. Test it and fix it as needed. Everything is fluid. Feedback is immediate. Nothing is forever. (Well, except for diamonds. And maybe that poorly-planned tattoo acquired on a drunken whim.)

But what about the big failures? The ones that draw a line before you in the sand. Daring you to courageously step forward or cowardly bury yourself right where you stand.

"You can be comfortable or outstanding, but not both. Extraordinary begins with discomfort." – Sally Hogshead
Many a creative recalls a time their ego was destroyed – that is by someone other than themselves. Their book metaphorically or, in some cases, actually ripped to shreds and thrown back in their general direction. One brutally honest moment. And, thank God for that moment. Here's your adversity. Now, what are you going to do with it?

Failure is a powerful motivator. Learn from its lessons. Let it make you and your projects stronger.

There's a reason why scar tissue is the strongest tissue in the human body. And that it stands out. A timeless reminder of a misstep or an averted prognosis. A defining characteristic they may use to identify us someday. One look at the mark and we recall how we got it. Maybe even what we experienced right before it was embedded. Forever. The sound of rusty trampoline springs. The smell of overheated car side pipes. The pre-surgical anxiety while helplessly slipping under the veil of anesthesia.
"Wisdom enters through the wounds." – shamanic quote capturing the inherent pain of creativity
Box of Crayons adds some great thoughts around that quote, "I love the liberating sense that it is only through our bruises and scrapes and errors and mistakes and stumbles and confusions and hurts and tears and anxiety and wounds, it is only through the time we spend in the shadow that our wisdom grows. Seek out experience and stumble."

Invest in yourself. Find a way to be mentored by smarter people who know how to do things that you don't. People who fear mediocrity over failure. And yes, you're probably going to fail. Eventually. But if you're bold enough to avoid the plateau, it's just part of the adventure.

[This piece is cross-posted on The Denver Egotist.]

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  1. If you're in the creative business and you haven't failed, then you're not doing it right. The edge does not have a comfort zone.

  2. Jennifer, Nice post. I spent a little while trying to find the origin of the Fail early and often sentiment. Hard to know. Kelley at IDEO looks like he was an originator or at least an early adopter. It's a very post modern thing isn't it. Impossible to imagine in a court society, early modern France say. "oh, well, no, we didn't get the ceremony or your crown exactly right. There a work in progress." But we are comfortable with failure. Thanks, Grant

  3. Thanks Grant. You're right, Kelley at IDEO was very much responsible for repositioning failure. We've come a long way from court society's perfection haven't we? It seems failure is endlessly paired with more grandiose challenges. In fact, W+K is hosting their first art show tomorrow night entitled: Fail Gloriously. Followed by the subhead, "Anyone who gets it right on the first try isn't trying hard enough." That sort of thinking leads to people putting their guard down. And innovating.

  4. Great post Jennifer. Just to let you know that it's been shortlisted in a Post Of The Month vote I run over at my blog, Only Dead fish

  5. Thanks Neil, honored to have made the list.