It’s OK to Fail…

as long as you iterate, iterate, iterate.


There’s something exciting about taking risks, and not knowing what the outcome will be. At the same time, it’s also pretty scary. I personally tend to lean towards the safe side of things. Taking chances, at least risky ones, has never been a part of my personality.

Even as a kid I hardly ever got into any trouble. It wasn’t that I had high moral values, or anything like that. I did know the difference between right and wrong. It was the fear of getting caught, and being punished by my dad that kept me from acting out. He had a bit of a temper, and I quickly realized that the bio-cost of taking risks, albeit mischievous ones, just weren’t worth it.

As I got older, and made my way through undergrad, and into my first real job type job, this habit of making safe decisions stuck with me. More likely than not I would choose the option that posed the least amount of risk. I just wasn’t ok with reaching outside of my comfort zone. Thinking back I now realize that I was afraid of the unknown, and afraid of how little control I had over it.

In 2004 I began to grow complacent of my life in L.A., where I was born and raised. I think I may have hit my ceiling with all of the “safe” decisions I had previously made in my life. So I made my first attempt to move to New York City. I went on a few interviews, but to be honest, I sort of half-assed them, and nothing ever panned out. In 2006 I tried once more with the same result. New York would remain a distant fantasy.

Being a glutton for punishment, in 2008 I tried once again, but with a slight adjustment. Without having a job, and hardly knowing a soul, I moved to New York City. However, as far as my family and friends were concerned, I had a job ready, and waiting.

My stable life in L.A. became my safety net. It made failing tolerable. I didn’t have to worry about my next paycheck, or paying my rent because I already had a job. I had a nice comfy bubble that was cushioning the blow of New York’s rejection. Ultimately it really all just came down to fear. Fear of failing, fear of having to swallow my pride and return to L.A. if the move didn’t work out, fear of the unknown. So I decided to take the safety net away. I moved to the city in May of 2008, and by April, I started my new position at a New York based ad agency.

After a “tweak” to my approach, I took a risk, and it paid off. If you think about it, I really had nothing to lose by taking this chance. The worst thing that could have happened to me would have been that I would have to move back to L.A. with a bruised ego. You‘d think that my habitual method of risk aversion would have prevented me from taking the chance, but the thought of looking back at my life when I’m old and grey, and living with the regret of not risking more, outweighed the unknown.

For a long time I was convinced that I needed everything in its right place before I was willing to try. Everything had to be perfect. Which was really just an excuse because I was too afraid to fail. I guess I just interpreted failure as an end, rather than a new beginning. My third attempt worked because it forced me out of my comfort zone. Moving back to L.A. wasn’t an option, so I had no choice but to succeed. Alone, with no job, and with no support system, it was the absolute imperfect scenario.

“Perfect is the enemy of good”—Voltaire

I recently just finished my first year of grad school. I’m an MFA candidate in the Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City where one of the main staples is the methodology behind experimentation being the key to success. Failure is acceptable, as long as you iterate, and keep moving forward.

One of our projects this semester was for our Entrepreneurial Design course taught by Gary Chou, Christina Xu and Leland Rechis. Our goal was to launch an original product, and make $1000 in profit, and we only had about four months to do so.

I’ve already spent a previous semester practicing the concept of ideating, generating, testing, and iterating on previous class projects. In my prevous career as a designer in the ad industry, ideating and generating were nothing new to me. However, working in advertising we never tested, we went into production. In advertising we never iterated, we launched, and our findings were just side notes. They were learnings that we would adapt to upcoming projects because making any changes or updates to the current work was out of scope, but now, things were different. Testing is highly encouraged, and iteration is like breathing. Without it, your ideas will not evolve.

It all makes perfect sense. Share your work, test it, get feedback, make improvements, and test it again. It’s so simple, and so easy to do…with my classmates, and instructors…within the walls of our department…on the third floor of the SVA building…on 21st street. Adopting these methods was an easy practice to implement in our private bubble, but now we were being asked to take a big leap forward, and go from solely sharing within the group, to sharing with the outside world.

Needless to say, it was pretty difficult, not just for me, but for many of my classmates to share their ideas at such an early stage of their development. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who suffered from the perfection bug, and why would I be? There is a vulnerability that comes with sharing thoughts, and ideas to an audience that you’re unfamiliar with that I’m sure many creators feel. It’s only natural to want everything to be just right, to be perfect before you open yourself up for criticism.

One Wednesday during class in late February, my classmates and I were each going around giving status updates about our launch plans. It was pretty much a broken record as each person gave their update.

“I’m not quite ready yet.”
“I’m launching next week.”
“I’m still working something out.”

Our instructors saw right through us. It wasn’t that we were perfectionists. It wasn’t that our ideas weren’t ready, or that we had a bit more tweaking and tinkering to do. We were afraid to share anything outside of our department walls. To share our ideas would make us vulnerable. To share them directly associates you with a statement that you are now putting out into the world. You don’t get the luxury of hiding behind your client, a brand, or an agency. You’re no longer one name on a list of contributors to an idea. This is YOUR project, with your name and face stamped on it. You own it. All questions, comments, and thoughts are directed towards you, and we weren’t prepared for that. So many of us made excuses about our projects “not being ready”. This idea of perfection was just a smokescreen to prevent us from the fear of the unknown. Will it work? Will people like? Will it be successful?

That Wednesday in late February, we all launched some form of an idea. We all reluctantly posted, tweeted, and shared an unpolished, imperfect, and raw expression of something we’d like to see in the world. For many of us it felt like being pushed out of an airplane with no parachute on.

I personally felt forced, unprepared, and to be honest, excited. For me, the hard part was over. It didn’t matter how perfect or imperfect my idea was. It was launching that I was so afraid of. It was the reactions, and comments I would receive, and the fear of failure that kept me from even attempting to share my idea. I needed that push that our instructors gave us. We all did. Because how can you validate an idea unless you share it with people? You can’t.

To evolve, an idea needs feedback. To receive feedback, an idea must be shared. To be shared, it required that I embrace the possibility of failure as a learning opportunity, and not the swan song that I had mistaken it for for so many years.

This was something that my instructors were more than aware of, but something we were reluctant to try for ourselves. Moreover, just like my successful attempt to move to New York six years ago, the only way we as a class could have ever of understood this, was to launch even if we weren’t quite ready.

A special thanks to Melody Quintana for playing a big role in helping me fine tune my story.

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