It’s Time To Fail


The kindergarten teacher is looking over the shoulder of a little girl drawing a picture. When she asks the little girl what she is drawing, the little girl answers, “I am drawing a picture of God.” The teacher, surprised, says, “But no one knows what God looks like.” The little girl replies, “They will in a minute.”

Picasso said that all children are artists. Once children first come to school they are all artists. If you walk into a kindergarten class and ask “Who in this room is an artist?” every hand in the class will shoot up! If you ask the same question of fourth graders only about half the hands will shoot up. If you ask the same question of eighth graders, maybe a quarter of the hands will shoot up. And by the time you get to high school seniors, only one or two of the bravest students’ hands will go up.

By the time our kids are seniors in high school they have learned that to be part of the system, they cannot fail. By then “failure is not an option”, as they say in the space program, and there is little room left for creativity.

As the famous Apple commercial says, Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

The rest of us have been trained not to be different, not to dare to make a mistake, not to dare to fail.

Which leads to that most damaging of all characteristics, fear of failure. Most of us are so afraid to fail that we refuse to try anything new and innovative. 

If you think of all of the great ones, the ones who are leaders, the ones who have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, almost all of them have a special relationship with failure.

The greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, was cut from his high school team.

Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper early in his career–they said he lacked imagination.

Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times.

John Grisham’s first book, “A Time to Kill”, was rejected twenty-eight times.

Albert Einstein had the label “mentally slow” put on his permanent school record.

Henry Ford’s first two automobile companies failed.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from an early job as a television news anchor.

Jerry Seinfeld was booed off stage in his first stand-up comedy appearance.

Sir James Dyson suffered through 5,126 failed prototypes before he landed on the first working Dyson vacuum.

Elvis Presley was fired from the Grand Ole Opry and was told to go back to truck driving.

Colonel Harland Sanders of KFC fame was rejected over 1,000 times before finding a franchise partner.

But most of us in business are still trying to avoid that failure; we will do anything not to fail.  We refuse to make choices that possibly lead to failure. We insist on doing the same thing over and over and yet expecting a different outcome.

Come on guys! Let’s get with it. It’s time we break out of that old “you just succeed and get A’s or else” mentality that was pounded into our heads and get moving with new and fresh and innovative ideas that might fail and probably will fail, at first. 

But that is just part of the journey, part of the learning experience. Thomas Edison tried over 10,000 times to find the right filament for the first long lasting light bulb before he got it right. When asked how he felt about having so many failures, he replied that he had not failed, he had just found the 9,999 things that did not work on his way to finding what did work.

In business like everything else in life we have to find new and innovative ways to do things. We cannot be satisfied with walking in lockstep with our competitors, all of us making sure that no one dares cross the line and ridiculing them if they do.

All that gets us is customers who say, “You and your competitors are all the same…so we just buy from whoever is the cheapest!”

Come on! Get with it, it’s time to try something new, it’s time to fail your way to success! It’s only common sense