Stimulated by failure
“You have to resign yourself to the fact that you waste a lot of trees before you write anything you really like, and that’s just the way it is. It’s like learning an instrument, you’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot, because I wrote an awful lot before I wrote anything I was really happy with.” J.K. Rowling
“I realised that I think I wasted and f***ed up about 40%. That 40% is quite painful. But then I sit back and look at it: Would I change anything? Did the mistakes not teach me powerful lessons? I’m trying to turn those mistakes into what maybe you guys call R&D.” Jamie Oliver
The need for stimulus
Within every creative process, there is the need to have stimulus to be able to go places where the unusual and different might exist. Typically, managers when presented with a challenge that requires fresh thinking, are encouraged to adopt the following process:
Agree a problem. Gather stimulus from stakeholders, consumers, competitors, other categories. Develop candidate insights. Select strongest insight. Develop concepts. Test concepts. Develop ideas. Validate ideas etc. etc.
A well-trodden path. Slightly tortuous?
Why can failure be so stimulating?
The stimulus that Rowling and Oliver are talking about is of a different kind – it is the rich stimulus of failure, collected on the hoof, rather than the stimulus gathered painstakingly at the outset. The experience gained from trial and error can be more valuable for three reasons:
Momentum: Wanting, needing and being allowed to fail for the greater good can act as a powerful catalyst in the innovation process. Once you have demonstrated that failing is productive, you do more things more quickly. In the current 365/24/7 environment, everyone wants momentum and fast learning.
Insight: The stimulus from failure is often far more insightful than the stimulus of success. According to Thomas Edison: “Negative results are just what I want…. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t”. Failure is often far better diagnosed than success and more lessons are often learned.
Concrete: By continuing to work with the tangible and the concrete rather than the conceptual and the abstract, there is a much greater chance that you will end up with a firm deliverable rather than a wishful dream.
“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” Thomas Edison
“Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them go……from suck to non-suck. We are true believers in the iterative process – reworking, reworking and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul.” Ed Catmull, president of Pixar
Enjoy failing every day
The stimulus of failure and feedback bring problems to light which forces us to think freshly. By taking failure away from the creative process, even when solving day to day problems, you are depriving the fire of innovation of the oxygen it requires to burn brightly. And the spirit of ‘getting on with it’ is not a lazy shortcut for avoiding the time-consuming act of collecting stimulus. It is simply a more pragmatic way of getting stimulated!
Agree a problem. Collect stimulus quickly. Develop an idea. Prototype it. Try it out. Accept FAILURE. Gather data. Learn. Repeat.