I Fail a Lot

by | May 30, 2014 | Strictly Business Blog

This isn’t a confession. There isn’t enough time in the day to address all of my issues. Despite all of my failings, I’m proud to say that I put myself in situations where I expect to fail. Yes, in a way, I try to fail. You might say that I’m very successful at failing too.

Ask yourself about the lessons you’ve learned in life. The biggest lessons are usually learned from failures. And, many breakthroughs in history are preceded by many many failures. Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Honda, known for it’s innovation, has a great philosophy that is well stated in the short documentary Failure: The Secret to Success.  They want their engineers to fail in big ways to help them learn and to grow. After all, what do you learn from success?

Creativity flourishes with parameters and under pressure. If you have a blank canvas, with no limits, you may sit and stare at it. If you are given a canvas, three colors, asked to visually define passion and then given a time limit, you will likely find a way to create. Doctors in Emergency Rooms and in field hospitals are credited with many inventions and innovative techniques, born out of situational pressure or desperation. If they had never been under the stress of a life or death situation, they may have never thought of the solutions they developed. And, doctors regularly make a practice of peer review of their failures. They present their cases, and their care actions are questioned and discussed, so that they learn and evolve to be better doctors. That practice is called an M&M Conference –  these reviews are without punitive action and are intended to improve patient care through modifying practice or policy. It’s learning without the fear of retribution.

Taking creative chances for a photographer would rarely, if ever, be a life or death consequence, so there is likely no fear of hurting anyone. So why not take risks? Of course there should be limits to taking risks on a client driven photographic assignment. If a client is expecting proven results, then you may take risks, but they should be controlled, calculated risks. Use your own time for the wild huge risks that may yield complete and utter failures. I mean that. Regularly, experiment on your own time to learn to be a better photographer/videographer/sound/illustrator/talker/thinker/marketer/technician/organizer/teacher/listener/creator. Putting yourself into near impossible situations can help you grow in ways you would never discover in a more comfortable situation.

A few months ago, I decided to undertake a personal project to photograph environmental portraits, every day, for 30 days. Part of the challenge was also to edit and produce the final images the same day. Some days, there were many portraits and other days, just one. In total, I photographed 52 people. Some days, I had clients (that did not count toward my goals) so I shot early or late in the day. I committed myself completely and ran with it. Some days were very successful, but I learned the most from the days that were not – the days where I was unprepared, the days when I had not done my research or wasn’t of the best mind to be creative. The experience was incredibly stimulating to my creative and organizational process and there are many images from the series that are part of my portfolio… however, the lessons that came from my failures mean more to me than my successes. I’m a better photographer due to my failings.

I highly suggest undertaking your own creative challenge, whatever it is. Don’t make it easy. It’s not a challenge if it’s not hard. And, putting yourself under pressure to create, will keep you fresh and will help build your creative skills. Expect to fail several times. If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing your limits. Embrace the failures and learn from them. If possible, do a M&M conference with peers as you go or when it’s all done. Embrace their feedback and learn from everything you experience and hear. Force yourself to grow.

Todd’s 30 day portrait project can be seen here.

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