You Need To Fail

Let me briefly set the table up front — this is not a post about how a life failure can send you on a new, stronger path… at least not in the grand sense of that.

I read a book some years back that did a study on how creativity works. It’s contents were fascinating, and the results were even more so.

We’re all familiar with the concept of right vs left brain thinking; the left hemisphere generally dominates logical reason, while the right hemisphere dominates relative reason. But this study went deeper than just understanding biological differences like this. It looked at the electrical and chemical signals occurring in the brain when presented with a challenge, and attempted to understand what goes on when people begin to think creatively.

When initially presented with a challenge, it was clear that a specific region in the left hemisphere was activated. This was true regardless of background or personality. This broadly makes sense — a problem was met with the attempt at a logical solution.. Just like a 1 + 1 = 2 type of scenario. However, the goal was to cause the test subjects to be challenged, and on at least some of the challenges, force the respondents to a failure point.

Remarkably, at almost the same moment, the subjects’ brain activity would begin to shift. The left hemisphere would decrease its activity, and the right hemisphere would activate intensely and with immediacy. Rather than conceding failure to the challenge, most respondents would end up solving (or at least bringing a solution to) the problem. It wasn’t a logical response…rather it was a relative one.

In analyzing the results, the general deduction was that upon a moment of perceived failure within the problem, the brain would stop trying to solve the single instance of the challenge, and begin to pull from the wealth of experience and input unrelated to the specific task. In doing so, the brain would arrive at a conclusion that may suffice. Put differently, it would stop looking for a reasoned, logical solution, and begin trying to find a creative one.

The study continues, and there’s a lot of fascinating science within it. But to me what will always stand out most is the seeming need to fail at solving a problem to enable a more creative solution. Failure evokes the ability for our minds to think beyond what’s rational — it forces us to succumb to the limitations of what our individual capacity for reason is. In turn, it activates the innate ability for our minds to associate things. To think beyond the single moment and/or problem. To bring a new, imagined solution that seems to fit to the table.

So why do we fear writers block? Why is the blank canvas so scary? Maybe if we embrace the just getting going no matter how ‘bad’ the work may be…. Maybe if we willingly embrace that the first idea may be destined to failure…. Maybe then we’ll end up triggering the inspiration we so sought.

Maybe we just need to fail in order to succeed.


Originally published at The Branded Approach.