#CreativeHabit 8: Dealing with failure

#CreativeHabit no 8: Dealing with failure

An inventible part of the creative process is to deal with failure. I think we all can agree on that success always is preferable to failure. However, if you do not fail occasionally you do not take enough risks. This week I would like to dive into how to deal with failure and how you can make sure it into a valuable part of the creative process.

My first tip is to try to fail in private as much as possible – by taking risks in private you weed out the bad ideas and get directed to a better route in your project. You wouldn’t believe the amount of knit samples and prototypes I have made to get my products just right. However, if I didn’t knit the unused samples and prototypes my products probably wouldn’t end up as half as good, and therefor it is essential to do all this amount of work.
Always remember that the more you fail in private the less you will fail in public (which can be a rather painful experience).

Thomas Watson said:

“WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO GIVE YOU A FORMULA FOR SUCCESS? IT’S QUITE SIMPLE, REALLY. DOUBLE YOUR RATE OF FAILURE.”

The feeling of failure is not too dissimilar to grief and you are allowed to cry and mourn. But eventually you have to move on and forget the pain – but not the lessons learnt!

It is vital to understand the reasons why you did fail. If you are the type who like to reflect in writing maybe try to journal and reflect on what did not work out, and what you can do better next time.

In Twyla Tharp’s book the Creative Habit she has written a whole chapter on how to deal with failures, and she writes that the most common reasons of failure are the following ones:

Failure of Skill – If you lack the skill needed to do the work to required standard there is only one thing to do: Get to work and develop the skills you need!

Failure of Concept – Sometimes we start working on an idea that turns out to be.. a not so good idea.. As soon as you notice this: Get out ASAP and/or change direction of the project!

Failure of Judgement – It could either be that you kept something – a garment, a phrase, an illustration etc. – that actually should have been discarded. It might not be something wrong with it itself – but it just does not work in the context of your project. Alternatively, you might have used someone else’s judgment and/or didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and as a result ignored your own gut instinct.

Failure that is a result of Denial – The first thing you have to do when you notice that something isn’t working out is to acknowledge the failure and accept it. The longer you ignore a failure the situation cannot get better – but once you paid attention to the failure and the reasons behind it you can finally move forward.

Failure of Nerve – I used to be so afraid to fail to the point that my fear ironically resultated in failure on several occasions. Then I realised that I had to have the guts to support my ideas fully and believe in myself. I guess the fear of failing never disappears fully but you can learn how to deal with and that it becomes easier through experience.
If you are not sure how to move forward I would recommend you to speak to a therapist specialising in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – this helped me enormously in how to deal with my unbearable fear and negative self-talk.

Failure through Repetition – After a success we might cling onto the success and instead of exploring a new concept and trust our instincts. If you are into fashion like me you might remember Christophe Decarnin’s very popular collections for Balmain? After the successes – everyone in the fashion industry was looking forward to the following collection.. which just ended up being repeat of the previous ones and as fashion moved on it just felt a bit ‘meh’.

And do not forget all movie sequels in the film industry – who remembers Scary Movie 4? I don’t think you do. I did not know it existed until I started my research for this blog post.

Most importantly once you have acknowledge the reasons behind the failure and accepted what had happened – give yourself a second chance, and remember that it is easier to put failures behind you than successes.

'You Do Your Best Work After Your Biggest Disasters' - Jerome Robbins

A study from University of Kent found that humor could be a successful way to deal with failure. Do you remember the YouTube clips with celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves? According to the study that could actually be a successful way to deal with failure. Some creatives even embrace their failures by framing mean letters they received and by mocking their critics.

This might not be for everyone and remember that it is important that you find your own way on how to deal with failure.

If you want to explore how to deal with failure further I have found some great videos in my research for this post:

Paulo Coelho – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.


Brilliant Ted Talk about being wrong.

Now I would love to hear from you – do you have any good strategies to deal with failure? Is there any other kind of failure you have experienced which I forgot to mention? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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