How to find success by being a failure

The fear of failure has been a driving force in my design career. I hate the idea of something I create failing. I’ve always seen it as a direct reflection of my own failings.

But more recently I’ve come to appreciate the strength that the fear of failure gives you. The deep down feeling of dread in your stomach that something isn’t right, is one of the most valuable assets if you act upon it.

As designers, we are victim to the IKEA effect. This is when we value our hand-made things more than they really should be valued (so the wardrobe that took you 4 hours to build seems much more magnificent than it really is). As a result of this phenomenon we become emotionally attached to the work we create, therefore clouding our better judgement. Even if we know a piece of design or an idea is not right it’s hard to be honest with yourself that you got it wrong. You feel it is a direct reflection on you and your abilities.

But more recently I’ve found how empowering it is to face the fear of failure head on say ‘yeah, I might have been wrong here’.

“Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before,” Neil Gaiman

Just recently when reviewing some of my designers ideas I dismissed a creative route but during a larger team review it became apparent that I was wrong. Very wrong. And admitting that during the meeting made it seem so much clearer what we had to do. We went on to produce one of the best presentations we’ve ever done. And the route that was chosen was born out of the route I had dismissed.

If you are prepared to meet this fear of failure head on and actively question whether what you are doing is right it opens up so many more options and takes you places you may never have got to.

“fail early and fail fast”, Andrew Stanton, Director, Pixar, Oscar winner

This idea was reinforced when reading the book Creativity Inc. by Pixar founder Ed Catmull. In this book there is a whole chapter dedicated to failure. It’s hard to think of failure being a word that is even mentioned in the realm of Pixar but having the guts to try new things is a major part of what makes their films stand out.

The opposite effect of this is what leads to stagnation.

“In a fear-based, failure-averse culture, people will consciously or unconsciously avoid risk. They will seek instead to repeat something safe that’s been good enough in the past. Their work will be derivative, not innovative. But if you can foster a positive understanding of failure, the opposite will happen” — Ed Catmull, Pixar Cofounder

It’s why I now tell my designers (or myself) that I’d rather they try something new and for it to fail than to not try it at all.

The fear of failure is one of the most useful tools in our creative armory. Best sharpen it up and use it.

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