Why failing is good

If you’re not attempting to be extraordinary, you’re an oxygen thief.

If you have the privilege of being paid by a company to create ideas (i.e. sit with your feet up on the desk, staring out the window, musing) then I believe you have an obligation to think big. To dream big.

To “take risks” with your thinking (at least at the early, conceptual stage) and to come up with ideas. Ideas that, maybe, no one has thought of before. Ideas that, again maybe, sound dumb.

To expose yourself to the possible ridicule of others saying: “Are you CRAZY?” Have you taken leave of your senses?


Trust me, please. Every single thing you now take for granted. Everything you can see, right this second – whether it’s a computer, an electric light, a suitcase with wheels on it, a car, a cab, an umbrella, a bicycle, a phone, a cell-phone, a coffee shop, a streetlight… EVERYTHING started out as a crazy idea.

A “car,” in Henry Ford’s day, was a noisy, smoky, dangerous alternative to a perfectly acceptable horse and buggy. It was a fad. An insane thing that only eccentric rich people had.  After all, there were no gas stations. And lousy roads. And early cars weren’t much faster than a horse. And less reliable.

In another company, GM, a man named Alfred P. Sloan became Chairman of the Board in 1937 and reputedly called a meeting with every senior manager and designer upon his appointment. He asked them one question: “What percentage of all the ideas that you guys have, actually make it through to production?” Excitedly they replied “well over 50%!” “That’s atrocious”, he said. “the figure should be 10% or 5%. It is not about getting YOUR ideas through. It’s about getting INNOVATIVE ideas through.”

So much of who we are is about our work.

So we wish to excel.

But we do not wish to look silly.

We do not wish to fail.

So we try quite hard. We push through ideas if we kinda know that “management” will buy them.

And that’s a shame. That puts a ceiling on achievement. And – at least for a creative person – that’s omission from the Premier League.

Don’t be afraid to Fail. (Fail early in the process.) Only when we fail can we learn. Only when we learn do we get better.

It’s the ethic of Silicon Valley.

But, sadly, not Madison Avenue. Or Corporate America.

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