Special Feature: Celebrate Failure!
by Ashley Ball
You, my friend, are a Master Tape Engineer. Your reputation as the King of Stick is riding on your latest project. But the adhesive you've come up with is flabby and weak, the "Before" picture among compounds. It couldn't hold two magnets together. You're flummoxed.
Two choices: Mention this intriguing development to your co-workers or keep it quiet to hide your "failure" rather than exposing it to ridicule.
If you chose option one, congratulations. You have just invented the central ingredient in Post-it Notes. You chose the second? Oooh, too bad. Your cover-up was so successful, no one knew you'd made any progress at all. And you never did find that super-adhesive. Professionally, you've come undone.
This dilemma stems from Dr. Spence Silver's story in the 3M company's Innovation Chronicles. Silver went looking for a strong bond and found a weak one. Fascinated rather than embarrassed, he shared his results with co-workers, among them churchgoer Arthur Fry. Fry enjoyed singing Amazing Grace as much as the next guy, but he was bedeviled by the church hymnal's bookmarks. They kept falling out and making him lose his place. If only there was some way to secure the bookmark that wasn't permanent. Hey! Hello, Dr. Silver? The rest is Post-it Note history.
Failure, as this sticky little parable illustrates, is the gateway to innovation. And you don't have to be an engineer to use it to your advantage. In art, in theater, in class and in sports, the lesson is the same: In order to progress, we need to bring our small defeats into the open. Only in examining them can we turn them into positives.
In his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Gelb writes that innovation comes when we shift our focus away from the "right answer and toward asking `Is this the right question?' and `What are some different ways of looking at this problem?'"
Gelb's view is liberating. If there are no intrinsically "wrong" answers we have no reason to be embarrassed about our setbacks. In fact, we should celebrate them: They mean we're on the way to a breakthrough. Myprimetime.com has turned "failure" on its sow's ear in the stories to follow, and we've come up with silk purses.
Can you rebuild after getting fired? Why, yes, you can an empire, if you're Home Depot's founders.
Positive affect helps you "get rich, get dates, get happy"— no matter what's gone wrong. It works for Bill Clinton; it can work for you.
For dot-com companies, the specter of failure is as ever-present as a screensaver. The losers minimize it. The winners use it as a help screen.
Keep your life in balance: Use the Talmud to see your losses as gains.
Are you poised for a creative breakthrough, or a life of treading water? Take our quiz and find out.