Chasing Failure


My son Chase has been one of the most helpful contributors to the Embracing Failure blog. In fact, the highest ‘day of publication’ traffic post was a lead from him (“Accidental Artist`). He has embraced the ethos in his own life especially in his own creative pursuits. The latest of which is his truly exceptional podcast series “Field Trips” (also available on Soundcloud and iTunes).

His artistry is expressed in the medium of field recordings which is a somewhat esoteric niche. He tackles that obscurity head on in his podcasts which are sort of a “Field Recording for Dummies”. They not only illuminate the genre, but they also provide an entirely fresh perspective on both the city of London (where they are recorded) and the auditory sense (that often gets neglected as so much simple “background”).

Field recording invariably engulfs a range of acoustic serendipity that he regularly shares in his post describing what he intended when he set out and what he actually got. His piece on the “River Thames” featured a particularly explicit embrace of failure in his examination of why rivers are so popular to record:

  • Grainier sounds help to cover up the inevitable hissing noise that comes from the recording equipment itself meaning a steady background noise ironically makes the recording clearer

He later comments on the equivalent of an audio “bomb” (like a “photo bomb”) when an unexpected and/or unintended sound imposes itself on the recording and how it often leads to curious and more positive results.


Embracing Errors

JFK failure

Happy Birthday JFK. Not only an archetypal Leadager, but also a historic advocate for embracing failure…

  • “For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence…Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised… This Administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: ‘An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.’ We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.” – JFK

Hugging Failure

Royal procession

  • The British need to learn to love failure. Something we can learn from the Yanks” – Nigel Knowles

The Royal Wedding today is the time to break out the bunting and the cream cakes to celebrate all things British. The independent minded Harry and his American bride introduced a number of innovations to this matrimonial pinnacle of tradition. Perhaps Meghan’s will gently influence other British characteristics such as a more loving embrace of failure. Nigel Knowles’ article “The British need to learn to love failure provides a trumpet voluntary call for a bit more failure in the British culture…

  • “Ben Bernanke, addressing Princeton graduates last month, made the following sage observation: ‘Nobody likes to fail but failure is an essential part of life and of learning. If your uniform isn’t dirty, you haven’t been in the game.’…This is because being a straight-A student does not mean that they are perfect but merely someone who has never done badly in a course – impressive in itself, but also perhaps indicating that they have never really been tested. If they have not been tested to the extent of receiving at least some weak grades, then they are either superhumanly gifted or, I would argue, that they missed out on how to cope with failure. How to cope with failure moulds character in a way that achieving constant ‘success’ never can. And constant success in business is never achievable in the long term. A final thought from Woody Allen: ‘If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.’ Innovation is a process of trial and error – with the latter part being equally as important as the former. Clearly this process must be channelled towards the overarching aim of achieving success, but fearing error means avoiding innovation. Learning from mistakes helps to build better businesses. Of course with failure, a little goes a long way!”

Meghan Markle has already declared “I’m American. I hug.”  And that might just include an embrace of failure.

Failure Resume

Failure CV 1

The conventional wisdom is that most people hide their past failures from their resume, but Johannes Haushofer actually added a special section to his CV that highlighted his failures. Mind you, he noted a “Meta-Failure” later that “This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.”

Failure CV 2

Embracing Youthful Indiscretions

This is HILARIOUS and subtly profound. Source: Dr. Eric Massicotte

A post shared by Josh Shipp (@joshshipp) on

(thanks Steve)

Sometimes failure when you are young seems more hazardous. You are at a more fragile point in your life, you are less savvy and therefore more prone to mistakes, and you have your whole life ahead of you so early missteps seem like they will haunt you for yours to come. But Catherine Baab-Muguira’s piece “The good news about failing at absolutely everything in your 20s” provides insightful advice to people embracing failure early in their creative careers:

  • Your 20s are a good time to “fail early, fail often.” – Take advantage of the relatively low stakes. Chances are that mortgages and kids aren’t a part of your problem set just yet (or if they are, you still have a lot of energy). Failure is a useful data point.
  • Sometimes what you’re encountering is not failure but a “gravity problem.” – Once you accept the basic truth of the situation, you’re in better position to adjust to the constraints.
  • The straight path is often an optical illusion – Overnight success is largely a myth. It’s worth remembering that you probably don’t know the gory details of the story. Trust me: that Instagrammer with the seemingly perfect life has also spent her fair share of nights crying and staring at the ceiling, worried out of her mind about money and love. It’s just part of the human condition.
  • Rationalization can be a beautiful thing – Daniel Gilbert notes that humans aren’t great at predicting what will actually make them happy. At the same time, we are pretty good at rationalizing what does happen. In other words, rationalization is an important, underrated coping skill.
  • Some fantastic art has been made about failure, too – Is it any wonder that the best TV made by millennials, including Insecure and Girls, is all about one’s 20s playing out as a confused, chaotic mess? Many artists have made great work out of their misspent youths. Just a few examples include Meghan Daum (see her essay: “My Misspent Youth”) and nearly every poem Philip Larkin ever wrote. Your mistakes can give you something to say to the world. And nothing breaks the ice like admitting your life hasn’t worked out quite according to plan.


Graceful Degradation


World Design Day today. As the featured video above notes, one would think that creative types like designers would appreciate the mantra of embracing failure, but it always bears repeating and Extra Credits underscore it in a colourful way with their video (thanks Chase):

  • The one most basic lesson of design. Fail faster. This is the designer’s credo. It is our mantra. It is our goal of every waking second of every day. Fail Faster. No ideal is ever fully formed…The art of what we do is simply spirally towards the centre course correcting along the way…because without testing and without exposing your thoughts to others and embracing how many horrible mistakes and egregious errors you made in your last pass, you will never create a good game…No idea is good. Choose something, begin to iterate, and fail faster.”

Seth Godin also talks about the design imperative of embracing failure in his post “Graceful Degradation” arguing that it’s not just about failing in the design process, but also designing for inevitable failures once the product is designed:

  • Stuff’s going to break. Then what? Air conditioners, for example, gradually lose their charge. When they do, icing can occur. When that happens, the drain pans overflow and water seeps away. The smart builder, then, anticipates all this and has the pan connected to some sort of drain, as opposed to having it rot the beams or collapse a ceiling. Most failures aren’t shocking surprises. The law of large numbers is too strong for that. Instead, they are predictable events that smart designers plan for, instead of wishing them away as rare unpredictable accidents…The most hackneyed line in design is, ‘first, do no harm.’ A more useful adage is, ‘when weird stuff happens, make sure it doesn’t cause harm you didn’t expect or plan for.’ For work where the outcome matters, consider the immortal words of the Smith System, ‘Always leave yourself an out’."

Embracing Infertility

Infertility 1

Infertility Awareness Week this week. One of the most pervasive and heartfelt dreams people can have is bringing new life into the world. Unfortunately, this dream evades many who face fertility problems that not even the latest treatments can overcome. But rather than letting the death of this dream deflate them, Spencer and Whitney Blake from Idaho started a sterling blog called “On An Adventure” where they openly discussed and embraced their problems with conceiving and let to the exciting odyssey of the adoption of their two boys:

  • “The couple began blogging about their experience with adoption at the suggestion of their agency, and has continued to post updates to inspire other families. ‘We share our experience with adoption, particularly open adoption, because we want people to know that it’s not something strange, uncommon, or scary,’ the pair wrote. ‘It’s beautiful’.”

Particularly noteworthy are the light-hearted photos they assembled to announced to the world their infertility in an effort to diffuse its stigma and lessen its sadness (see above and below).

Infertility 2