If your last idea was a total failure… well done! Creative element #43

by | Nov 17, 2016

Why failure and creativity are necessary bedfellows.  

An oft-heard mantra in business is that it’s important to fail. No one gets things right first time every time – it is only by learning from our clangers that we’re given clues as to the right path to take.

In my new book, In Your Creative Element, The Formula for Success in Business, out in December by Kogan Page, I distill the creative process down into 62 key Creative Elements, and failure is one of them. It might sound counter-intuitive, but if you want to generate truly new creative ideas you need to fail now and then. I love Denzel Washington’s commencement speech on failing or what he call’s ‘falling forward’. He says:

“Fall forward. This is what I mean; Reggie Jackson struck out twenty-six-hundred times in his career, the most in the history of baseball. But you don’t hear about the strikeouts. People remember the home runs. Fall forward. Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experiments. Did you know that? I didn’t know that because the 1,001st was the light bulb. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.”

My book highlights the work of a woman named Haley Van Dyck, who worked in the Obama administration to bring Silicon Valley-style tech thinking to big government issues. In her very insightful TED talk, she says that the US government spends an astonishing $86bn a year on IT projects… and that 40 per cent of these projects are eventually abandoned. In other words, the US government knowingly spends around $35bn a year on doomed ideas.

But with each failure comes some sort of Eureka! moment. As Van Dyck eloquently puts it: “It means as government continues to operate as it’s programmed to do, failure is nearly inevitable. And when the status quo is the riskiest option, that means there is simply no other choice than radical disruption.”

And so, out of the ashes comes the phoenix. Out of 5,126 failed attempts comes James Dyson’s revolutionary (no pun intended) dual cyclone bagless vaccum cleaner.

So you don’t have to bet the farm (see my blog on risk-taking) but creativity can be kick started by asking how can you start to get more comfortable with failure at work today?

In Your Creative ElementInformed by academic research, interviews and 20 years at the sharp end of corporate life, my new book identifies 62 Creative Elements for creativity in business. Read more about the relationship between failure and creativity – In Your Creative Element, The Formula for Creative Success in Business is published by Kogan Page and available at Koganpage.com and Amazon.co.uk



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