I recently led my training seminar How To Become a Creative Superhero for The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). A critical lesson in the seminar is that failure is essential to success. I know…this seems wacky. But we must fail, and the benefits are below. Embracing failure as part of your creative process lands you on the path to marketing (and life) success.

If You’re Not Failing, You’re Not Living
Much of marketing professional services is demonstrating meaningful differentiation from your competitors. To do so, you’ve got to consistently communicate your uniqueness in new ways. Being different requires taking risks. Hugh Mcleaod says “great new ideas have lonely childhoods.” Creating something new can be messy, uncomfortable and unknown. It requires great courage. Even the world’s best fail. “Talent and intelligence never innoculate anyone against failure,” reminds J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.


J.K. Rowling, Harvard Graduation Speech, The Fringe Benefits of Failure

The Benefits of Failure
Failure teaches you things that you could learn no other way. As Bucky Fuller says, “You can never learn less; you can only learn more. The reason I know so much is because I have made so many mistakes.” This philosophy is the heart of the Japanese business concept “kaizen” (continual improvement). By pushing against, and breaking through boundaries, you develop a range of acceptable solutions. It’s also liberating to have your biggest fear (failure) be realized, and know you are still alive to create brilliance. Your subconscious mind wants you to succeed. You can see this in mini-failures that are actually “happy accidents.” This happened to me recently in a client presentation when the words out of my mouth were not what I intended (aka Freudian slip), but were actually considerably better. Be sure to recognize the gifts of failure when they show up in your creative process.

Build Failure Into Your Process
Like life itself, the creative process is beyond our total control. Accept it when failure shows up as a guest in your creative house. Greet failure and keep moving. This simple acceptance opens you up to the creative magic that will flow. The goal is to embrace failure early and frequently. You can even make it fun. Consider offering a booby prize to the person that comes up with the most ridiculous idea in your next brainstorming session. Be sure to save your ideas that don’t make the cut. They are simply solutions to the next creative problem. Plus, nobody has to see your “sketches.” You only need to unveil your final work of art.

Failure is like spinach for Popeye: it doesn’t kill us and only makes us stronger. The mind once stretched to a new idea never regains its original shape. Now take your newfound love of failure and incorporate it into your next creative marketing project.


Michael Jordan Failure Ad

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