Monday, February 15, 2010

The joys of failing - Fail sooner rather later

It runs counter intuitive to what we know, to our sense of achievement and why we are programmed to be embarrassed from childhood at coming last.

Structuralist Rudolph Arnheim made the observation regarding the way we're taught art at school.

First we're allowed to explore; our hands and bodies become brushes for canvas, but by the time we've reached teenhood, any form of experimenting is usurped for classical methodological teachings. This is art and this isn't.

Thank God for the impressionist.

The joys of failing - a segment of an upcoming videojournalism book illustrates, more so than now what should be a penchant for failing. And the limits for failing should always be measured to bring out the best in us - to fail spectacularly.

Fail and fail again and then fail no more
Failure yields two broadly different reactions: resignation and determination.

So there is an art to failing that allows one to go from zero to hero in a short amount of time.
The skill from the trainer is to know where the student has touched the void, exasperated and can ill afford to fail any further.

But we are a resilient kind and where we are able to fail spectacularly, there is often no where else to go but to slowly climb and seek success.

Some cultures are perceived to reward spectacular failures. Note the difference between the dotcom entrepreneur who blew loads of money on a great idea and became contrite, knowing where it went wrong.

The entrepreneur is either eminently hireable as the manager with great wisdom that they won't repeat the mistake, or a dud who should be shunned for ever.

In 2001 this scenario was rife, and many dotcomers now with established companies will admit to "getting it horribly wrong", "wrestling within the pit of their stomach" and then the eureka moment.

In many ways they themselves understood the value of the turnaround. When you fail greatly, you want to succeed in kind.

We're all products of this mantra, which can also be translated as "there's no gain without pain" or "how low can you go".

Our postmodern attitude to teaching reflects this. We're supposed to offer, and offer is the operative word, students pearls of wisdom. Quite. But that should not negate the one thing they and we all should manage. How to overcome failure.

I've said over the years, make that mistake here now and cataclysmically so in industry you
  • don't make the same mistake
  • you know how to manage failure.

Failure must nor be feared, for it really is the Ying within the equation of unity and will be balanced out.

The fear of failing is a tonic, but it should be managed from the beginning Fail sooner rather than later. Some of my biggest failures was never settling in any of the broadcast outfits I worked for: radio, TV, agency, advertising etc.

The onset of that was having to learn the technologies and semiotics of the different media I worked for and I count the individual failures as key. e.g. deleting the rich contents of a web site from the server because I didn't know what I was doing and failed to ask the right question. Believe me, its never happened since.

  • NB: In computer hardware testing, the job was to see how swiftly you could crash your computer. How soon could you get it to fail.
  • Everything fails, everything needs a contingency.
  • Admitting something is failing e.g. present news discourse is the first step to addressing what we do next.