skip to Main Content
Fail Like A Genius

Fail Like a Genius

One of my favorite Disney movies is Meet the Robinsons. In it an entire family celebrates when failure happens. They celebrate because when you fail it means you tried something. Failure is going to happen, especially when you are creating something new and creative. The question is how are you going to handle the failure? Are you going to let it stop you from succeeding? Absolutely not! In the movie their moto is Keep Moving Forward! My version of that moto is Fail … Like a Genius. 

Failing is a part of creative thinking. Not every idea is going to work how you planned. When we let our ego get in the way, the failure is simply a failure. However, if we are able to “suck it up buttercup” and give ourselves permission to fail then our failure can turn into success. This is what I call Fail … Like a Genius. 

Author, Brene Brown said “When failure is not an option, we can forget about creativity, learning, and innovation.” Failure is a necessity. Also, did you know that when NASA is hiring astronauts, they look for candidates with some kind of failure in their past? Things go wrong in space and calling AAA for a tow is not an option. NASA needs to know that their people can deal with failure without falling apart. They are looking for people that know how to fail like a genius. Before I get into the process of failing like a genius, let me illustrate the process with three stories. 

The invention of the metal-spring toy called Slinky was initially a failure. Mechanical engineer Richard James was working on a project to develop springs that could keep sensitive equipment steady while at sea. James had a shelf full of flimsy springs that could not support the shipping equipment. One day he accidently bumped into the shelf and watched as the springs gracefully walk down the shelf instead of falling. It was that moment James turned his failure into a success. He realized that when used for the original purpose, the flimsy springs were a failure, but if he repurposed them as a toy then they were a success. James’s failure became a success because he found a different purpose and a different audience for his spring.

The Wright brothers built several gliders and planes before achieving flight. Each time they tested and crashed, the brothers studied what worked and what did not work. They then went back to the drawing board to improve their design. Not only did they learn from their own failures, they also paid attention to what other aviation pioneers attempted and failed to accomplish and made improvements on those ideas as well. Their process of identifying issues, adjusting, and trying again turned all the previous failures into a major success with the first flight on December 17, 1903.

Lastly, the founder of KFC, Colonel Harland David Sanders, solicited 1,009 different restaurants to sell his famous, secret fried chicken recipe so he could build a chicken franchise. Each restaurant rejected him. However, Colonel Sanders knew he had a winning recipe, so he kept trying. He did not let the fear of rejection stop him. He persevered and eventually he succeeded. Today KFC is the second-largest restaurant chain, as measured by sales, and KFC fried chicken is the Christmas holiday meal of choice in Japan.

Now that you have the failures-turned-success-stories, let me breakdown the Fail … Like a Genius process so you can implement it yourself. The three steps are:

  1. Embrace failure
  2. Learn from failure
  3. Reassess failure

Embrace failure

Embracing failure is acknowledging that it will happen at some point and still being able to put your creative idea out there. Do not let a fear of failure stop you. A method to help with this is by facing the main reason we fear failure – being judged. 

First, identify who is judging you. If it is that self-doubting voice inside your head, then tell it to shut up. If it is someone else, then ask yourself if what they say really matters to you and consider what personal fears that person has. That may be what is driving the judgement. Listen to the comments and feedback. There may be useful information for you to improve your idea, but never let someone make you feel less of a person. If the comments and feedback are demeaning, then walk away.  

Next, consider what the worst thing is that can happen by having someone judge your idea. In the larger scheme, does it really matter?

Lastly, identify people that you can talk to about your fears of failure. People can be very supportive, and they can help alleviate your fears. 

Learn from failure

You failed. What now? Give up and move on to something else? No way! If you do that then you have wasted your time with only a failure to show for it. When a creative idea fails then learn what you can from it. 

  • Identify what went wrong and what went right. 
  • Consider how things can be changed or adapted to work better. 
  • Review feedback that you received for helpful information for improvements.
  • Consider finding a partner. Getting ideas from another person can set you on the right track. 
  • Consider your audience. Maybe you did not have the right audience. Maybe your idea is better suited for a different group of people.  

Reassess failure

The last step in failing like a genius is to reassess the failure because it may not be a failure at all or a few tweaks may be all that is needed to make it a success. Remember the Slinky story? It was a failure for the original purpose but as a toy it was a success. Can your failure be used for a different purpose? Or you may be able to combine it with something else to improve it such as the Post-It Notes adhesive that was a failure as the intended super-strong glue, but when combined with small pieces of paper were a successful way to mark pages and leave notes.

Other alterations to consider that may turn your failure into a success are making it:

  • Bigger or smaller
  • Less expensive
  • Last longer
  • More versatile

If you would like a one-page job aid on how to Fail … Like a Genius, you can download it here. For more examples and details about combating your ego and dealing with failure, check out my book Conditioning Your Mind to Fuel Creativity, available on Amazon, or contact me about having a workshop or presentation for your team. 

Back To Top