The F Word

I don’t like to fail. It takes me straight back to school and my teacher’s red pen. When I was a kid I spelled my own name wrong on the cover of an exercise book (ironically my spelling book); I had to carry that red circle of failure and shame around for a whole year. That felt bad. It still does – failing hurts, it’s embarrassing.

But ‘Creativity Inc’ a terrific book from Ed Catmull got me thinking about failure in a shiny new light. Ed says that in a creative industry, failing isn’t just ok – it’s damn near essential.

That’s because failing is an inevitable consequence of doing something new, of pushing boundaries, of taking a leap. If you’re not failing, you’re probably sticking to the tried and true. You’re avoiding risk and not chasing originality. And that’s way worse.
When you allow yourself to fail, you’ve got a licence to explore, try, experiment. You become iterative and creative. You make a mistake, you learn from it and get better. It’s just one step in the creative process.

This is even more important when you’re wearing the boss’s pants. You’ve gotta take the fear of failure out of your culture. It’s not hard; just start talking about your own stuff-ups. At Inspire our chief does this – and the team loves it. Ears perk and looks are exchanged. By admitting his faux pas, Dan sends a powerful message to the team. It’s ok – we’re not going to judge, blame or wedgie. It happens to the best of us. And the team don’t think less of him – I know I admire him for it. When Dan’s open about his mistakes we can all learn from them.

I suggest you take some time to think about how your team responds to failure. Do they pull together – showing support, encouragement and aroha? Or do they run for the hills and blame until their throats are dry and sore? This’ll tell you a lot about your culture – one’s inspiring, the other’s toxic. Anyone can blame, it’s easy but counterproductive. It takes a bigger person or team to stick, care and fix.

Learn to embrace failure – it’s your greatest learning tool.


Written by Hugh Denton

Hugh leads our Instructional Design team at Inspire Group. He is a legend! (Someone else wrote this last bit….not Hugh….he wouldn’t say that about himself…but he should….it was the fairies on the interweb….he is a legend though)

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