Paint & Pipette
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Paint & Pipette

So You’ve Failed? Persist!

One of the guilty pleasures I allow myself on Fridays is reading Scott Galloway’s “No Mercy/No Malice” newsletter. It’s one of my favorites. I was struck by a passage where he describes a recent visit to his high school alma mater, where students asked him for tips on how to succeed. He answers thus:

It began for me at Uni (high school). I ran for sophomore, junior, and senior class president, and I lost all three times. Based on that track record, I decided to run for student body president where I — wait for it — lost again. Amy Atkins turned me down for the prom, and I was cut from the baseball and basketball teams. Then I was rejected by UCLA, the only school I could afford to attend, as I could live at home.

“However, I never lost my sense of enthusiasm. I appealed the rejection, UCLA admitted me, and by my senior year of college, I was president of the Interfraternity Council. Weak flex, I know, but it felt important at the time. I graduated with a 2.27 GPA, but that didn’t stop me from getting a job in the analyst program at Morgan Stanley (applied to 23 firms, one job offer) or getting into graduate school at Berkeley (applied to nine schools, rejected by seven).

“In sum, the secret to my success is … rejection. Specifically, my willingness to endure it.

I loved this story, because it’s all too common. A recurring theme on the road to creative mastery is how wrongly we perceive those who are successful as having never struggled, and how wrongly we thus perceive our own struggles on the way to becoming, as evidence that we won’t become, ourselves.

I had the privilege of speaking with bestselling author Minda Harts recently ( podcast coming soon!), whose three books have experienced massive success. But it wasn’t pre-ordained! “When I first got my book deal, there were five major publishers, and four of them told me, ‘There is no audience for your book. This book will never do well.’” ( They were wrong.)

A hallmark of the great stories of innovation throughout history is the innovator’s willingness to persist in the face of failure (Edison’s “10,000 things that don’t work” comes to mind, as well as Sir James Dyson’s 5,126 failed prototypes) and rejection (the stories above).

I’m a firm believer that our best ideas have yet to be born.

So you’ve failed? Persist.

Related: Endure the Pain of Becoming
Related: Have Lots of Ideas
Related: Expect Good Ideas to Come Late

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Originally published at https://www.jeremyutley.design on April 29, 2022.

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We’ve gotten creativity all wrong. Profound misunderstandings of how creativity works keep us from our most breakthrough thinking. Paint & Pipette illuminates the often counterintuitive tactics that drive differentiated outcomes across industries and disciplines.

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Jeremy Utley

Jeremy Utley

Director at Stanford d.school. Teaches leadership & entrepreneurship. Studies history of invention & discovery. Shares insights w fellow students of innovation.