June 26, 2020
I was in a group brainstorm the other day and an account person said something very interesting. We had hit a dead end in our ideation, so I encouraged everyone to throw out as many random thoughts as they could. That’s when the account person said, “I don’t want to say anything stupid.”
It occurred to me at that moment that for people who aren’t used to bouncing ideas off each other, brainstorming is all about coming up with good ideas. The truth is, it’s quite the opposite. Brainstorming is about coming up with dumb, awful, ridiculous, half-baked, cringe-worthy ideas until you get to the good ones.
In a word, it’s about failure. Failure that leads to success.
But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what an athlete, an actor, a comedian, and a composer have to say on the subject of failure.
In Michael Jordan’s famous Nike ad, “Failure”, he says, “26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
In Denzel Washington’s commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, the celebrated actor argues that if you’re going to fall, fall forward. One example he uses is that Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experiments before inventing the lightbulb. But who cares about the first 1,000 failures if the 1,001st attempt was a success?
In the documentary “Comedian”, we follow Jerry Seinfeld as he relaunches his standup career, years after the success of his eponymous TV show. As he struggles to turn five minutes of new material into one hour of standup, we get a glimpse into the process of coming up with and refining jokes. The number of times he has to bomb before he kills on stage is staggering.
And lastly, in a documentary on the making of West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein’s daughter reveals that her father, the legendary composer, had written:
It’s the sound of an organ playing
It’s the sound like in church when they’re praying
Before refining it to the now-famous lyrics of “Maria”:
Say it loud and there’s music playing
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying
So there you have it. Failures that lead to success.
Of course, it’s important to note that your goal has to be to succeed. If your failures lead to more failures perpetually… then, you know, maybe you should get out of show business.