Monday, 2 May 2011

Are You Promiscuous With Your Failures?


As I am sure I have mentioned before, I am an aficionado of audiobooks, especially when I am crafting. I LOVE reading, but have found that the time I can make available for it seems to diminish year on year. I think this is largely to do with my family commitments and I hope to be able to return to reading properly as my children grow and need me less (a thought in itself that makes me sad, in one of the spirals of my life). However, in the mean time, audio books keep my mind sharp, provide an escape and make me reflect on my life.

One of my favourite book genres is the self help book. Yes, I KNOW they're sometimes cheesy and they get a bad press. However, I think that the concept of self reflection and re-evaluation of the world is a helpful one. I'm yet to read a permanently life changing self help book, but I think the combined wisdom of them does help me to live a braver life, both personally and professionally.

I'll be perfectly honest: as you may know I have the 'accolade' of owning a failed business. A few years ago I did not think this could be possible. I believed that I would succeed every time. I believed I could and would work, work, work to make anything successful if I wanted it enough. This has been one of the big lessons I have struggled with in recent months. The world does not revolve around me.

For a long time I felt personally responsible for the collapse of Generation Publishing. I wondered what I could have done differently and how I could have tried harder. The thing was, there weren't enough hours in the day to work harder. Although I didn't realise it at the time, I had surrounded myself with the wrong people. There were things happening (like changes in the global economy) that I couldn't control.

At the time, I went to some CBT sessions and was made to draw a pie diagram of the reasons my business failed. I saw, very visually, that I could control a very small part of that pie. I could see that I wasn't responsible for the whole thing. However, it has taken many, many more months for my emotions to catch up to my awareness. I'm just now starting to feel as though I did as much as could be realistically expected of me.

Failing is horrible. It is humiliating and it is frightening. We live in a world where failures are not tolerated. A large proportion of our television schedules is filled with programmes where we are invited to critique and criticise others on their many and varied attempts to do something. It feels satisfying to pass comment, to pat oneself on the back and feel as though one would not have been so silly as to do THAT.

The thing is that, because one is afraid of failure, it becomes much easier not to try. Its easier to take the easy option and do what you are told and not to take risks. The thing is that life is much less satisfying that way. Unless we innovate, and unless we try then we stagnate. And we cannot try unless we risk failure.

This afternoon I've decamped to the dining room sofa with my knitting needles and my iPhone. I've been determined to finish the long started silk scarf for an elderly relative who is going blind. I also chose to listen to "Poke The Box" by Seth Godin. 

Godin argues that the most important characteristic we can have personally, and the most important thing we can have for our economy in general, is the desire to innovate. To generate forward momentum. To risk things. To have a go. To come up with new ideas. To risk failure. Although it may sound glib, he was the one who asked 'are you promiscuous with your failures?' Arguing that if you don't innovate then not only are you letting yourself down, because you're not using all your talents and being all that you can be, but you are also letting everyone else down too. He likens not innovating within your company to stealing a laptop and flogging it on Ebay. It's stealing. Who knows what joy, what opportunity for others may come from your idea or your work? Is it right to deny other people because you aren't brave enough to try?

With trying comes failure. By failing, you are doing something that most other people are afraid of - you're edgy. Your projects may be fail-fail-succeed-fail-fail-fail-succeed-succeed-fail, but who cares? No-one will remember the things that you tried that did not work, as long as you gave them the best chance you could to succeed. The important thing is starting.

Within his work he gave an anecdote that rings bells to me. I believe he called it the dandelion theory:

We are mammals. Our children take a great deal of investment of energy. Therefore much of our time is devoted to preventing them from taking too many risks, because this would be a waste of our energy. We are raised to avoid risk, and we instinctively raise our children the same way too.

Compare this to a dandelion. A dandelion produces thousands of seeds a year. If you look at it from the point of view of the actual seed, most will land on concrete and other places where they cannot germinate. Most of the dandelion's energy seems to be "wasted." However, come spring, all the pavement cracks are filled with dandelions. And that's the point. You won't know which of your ideas will be successful and which won't - the important thing is to start something. If you're too afraid to fail then you will never succeed. You obviously have to work hard, and finishing things is equally important, but it's the starting that takes the bravery. From each failure one learns something new. It's this new knowledge that makes us remarkable.


My Great Aunt will hopefully feel her scarf and be pleased with the sensations it arises in her, but she will never know that it was an opportunity for it's maker to reflect and to learn something, and to help to heal an awkward, sore bit of her psyche. Here is the picture of the now renamed Dandelion Scarf:

Dandelion Scarf


I shall spend this week making like a dandelion. Thanks, Seth!

Lots of love

Claire x





  1. Great post, Claire. I totally agree with the whole taking risks thing....that is how we grow and how we learn. All things happen for a reason, even the not so good.....we learn and we do things differently next time. xxx

  2. This was a lovely post :-)
    I'm a fellow spoonie, found you on twitter. I'll definitely be bookmarking :-)
    Billygean -

  3. I think this is a brilliant post - really nicely written and the sentiment is oh so true. Beautiful scarf as well!