When I was 17 and learning to drive, my instructor taught me one of the biggest lessons of my life, and it had nothing to do with driving. As we were practising hill starts, my teacher, a man who very rarely punctured the silence with words, suddenly laid out a manifesto for how society can improve (all within the time it took me to practice reversing round a corner). Each year he found students struggled more and more with how to change gears in his car, and he had his theory as to why;
“You kids push too many buttons. Everything you want, you get with a click of a button. Knowledge is instant. Nobody knows how to fail. Nobody knows how to play the long game. But learning how to drive a car, that’s a long game, and it involves failing a few times.”
At the time I my 17 year old self wanted him to just tell me how to drive a bloody car, but over the years I have come to realise he was absolutely right. As a society our patience for pushing through failure is fading fast. I remember distinctly making a memory that day, to make sure that I always made time to play the long game, framed life in a way that seeks out failure as a way to achieve progress.
Life is a simple thing made complex by technology and people, and this year I’ve made myself a commitment to simplify life by spending a good amount of time doing a bit of classic failing. I really love Mike Boyd’s fantastic YouTube Channel who made an entire YouTube channel about failing and having fun along the way.
Learning to see by failing to look
In my line of work it’s important that I’ve got a sharp eye for visuals, to be able to interpret clients requirements into animations and films and most challenging of all, storyboarding. The only problem was, I am absolutely shockingly bad at drawing. So the only way I was going to get better was doing some shoddy scribbles. So I signed up to a life-drawing class with the wonderful Mark Dickson. Here’s week one.
So, I committed to standing in front of an easel and repeatedly failing until I felt like I was failing less and succeeding more. Here’s after a month or so, I could see I’d manage to up my game a little.
Learning to write by failing to focus
I have always felt like a fraud when writing. It seemed to come so easily to others. I felt there was no way I could have any grace or skill in writing and decided it just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I read “Bird by Bird“…. “Nobody wants to read your sh*t” and “Do the work” that I realised that good writing starts with terrible first efforts. To seek success in writing I need to write a lot of crap, but just write.
To help me along, I’ve used a tool called Grammarly, so I can rest assured that as long my writing is crappy, it’s almost grammatically correct crap.
Learning a new skill by failing
Like most people I spend my day sat at a desk, and always felt my basic man-skills were a bit lacking. I wanted to learn something that didn’t require a computer or any technology whatsoever, something with my hands. So I decided to give some basic wood carving a shot. Now this is one thing where failing was VERY easy, because my spoons were shocking.
But after some deliberate failing, I could make some slightly less shocking looking things like this:
Learning to push new styles by failing safely
To me, it’s essential that any learning can transfer across personal and professional life, and the commitment to trying and failing is something I wanted to bring to my team to ultimately help my clients. So each week I ask my team to pick a style of animation that they feel is outside their comfort zone and make deliberate steps to fail in that area. No client work pressure, just messing about and trying new things. Now my team have a level of talent far beyond mine, so many of their “failures” far exceeded anything I could achieve myself, but I feel that deliberately chiselling away at a comfort zone and failing helps illuminate all these areas with new confidence and ability.
So here’s to failure…
…I’m going to make 2018 all about spending more time failing. To stop googling the problem, stop avoiding the graft, to become friends with the grind. With a bit of deliberate failure, there’s a chance I can sharpen some skills and offer a better creative eye to clients along the way.