Failing to succeed

I watched an interesting talk online this week, given by Seth Godin last year on ‘Art and Science and Making Things’. It was a thought-provoking discussion on the business of taking risks and failing in order to create new things. Forgive me if I am late to the party, but I have just discovered Seth, and the more I read, the more I appreciate his articulation of the same thoughts that so often scramble about in my head in such splendid disarray that I can’t seem to ever pin them down to paper.

Seth puts forward the often-touted but largely ignored view that our current society is based on an ‘Industrial System’, where education, both in school and the workplace, is about learning things we already know. It is a system designed to produce people who can produce things that have always been produced, and then produce them faster, cheaper, and with greater compliance. His argument is that we should be using the opportunities given to us by the technology and expertise we have at our fingertips to encourage and connect to people doing something different. That instead of success being measured in terms of how well we learn the things that are already known, we should reward people for reaching out and exploring the things we don’t know, even if failure is a guaranteed part of it.

“If you are doing something that might not work, you are making it.” – Seth Godin, ‘Art and Science and Making Things’

This is true for every scientist that ever did an experiment, not to prove something that we already know (like every experiment you ever did in school that got an A+), but just to see what happens when you do it (the stuff D- marks are made of – throw things in a test tube and take cover). But here’s the interesting thing: Artists, musicians, actors, writers – the right sided brains of this world – continually throw things into to test tubes just to see what happens. The business of failing in order to succeed is a part of the air we breathe. Creating something new that might fail is what  every writer agonising over a book that may never be finished is doing, what each group of improvisers on stage conjuring a scene from thin air is experiencing, what every artist putting paint onto a canvas is inviting. So in our way, each of us is a scientist. And by that theory, science is an art.

“An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.”  Seth Godin: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Despite the pressure to do otherwise, artists and scientists alike ignore the concept of ‘right’ versus ‘wrong’, what is known and what is not: we do exactly what Seth is asking us to do. We make new things by trying new things. And sometimes (well, a lot of the time) we fail. But each failure brings us closer to success, each notch in our professional bedpost takes us a step nearer to making something that is truly new, unique, and brilliant.

“The secret to being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.” – Seth Godin: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Be a little wrong today…let me know where it takes you.


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