Coming Anarchy 4, Failure

Note: This is a selection from Coming Anarchy, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

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Limitations and Failure

“Every day each individual encounters some experiences that go well and some that don’t (Gardner, 1997).”
During our many class discussions and readings from the literature in this course, we kept coming upon this recurring notion that even the most creative and expert people which we studied failed at many points in their lives. However, what set them apart from “ordinary” people was this idea that they were able to frame their failure appropriately and learn from their mistakes (i.e. leverage it for future benefits). It wasn’t necessarily detrimental to their lives or professions, if they could just find some good or a lesson to be learned from it. In effect, we learned that it wasn’t that successful people failed less than us normal folks (in fact it was usually quite the opposite), but that they were able to learn something from everything that happened, instead of getting down on themselves or depressed about their abilities.

Relevant Quotes From Interviews (Select):

When asked the question, “What do you do when you fail?” the following answers were elicited:
Chirol: “Missing something blatant is downright embarrassing and naturally happens sometimes, however not seeing a connection between two events can also be helpful. While it may bruise my ego a little, I can ask myself why I’ve missed it? Not my area? Not enough time spent researching the topic? Not paying attention? With that, I can learn from my mistake and help to increase my perspective so to say. I try to use my mistakes to develop a kind of method to use when looking at things. Steps I can go through or questions I can ask myself to help ensure I don’t miss something.”
Curzon: “Learn from the experience. There’s nothing wrong with failing — that’s how you learn. A life without failures would be a pretty boring one.”
Younghusband: “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Organizing The Information From The Quotes (Organize):

We hear again and again that failure is inevitable. However, failure does not imply personal worthlessness. It is interesting that their opinions range from interrogating failure (Chirol), to brushing it off (Curzon), to embracing it (Younghusband). So beneath the general agreement that failure is going to happen, there are substantial differences as to how you should deal with it (i.e. how you should frame the failure to be able to leverage it in the future).

Association With Our Course Readings (Associate):

“[Creative people have the] capacity to identify one’s deviance and to convert it into a competitive advantage … the capacity to construe experiences in a way that is positive, in a way that allows one to draw apt lessons and … proceed with one’s life (Gardner, 1997).”
“No matter how hard most psychologists work, they will not attain the eminence of a Herbert Simon. Most physicists will not become Einstein (Ericsson, 1996).”’

Nagging Questions (Regulate):

Are the different approaches to failure – the different ways it is embraced – further proof that there is no specific creative identity, or is the “essential” similarity good enough? Is there perhaps a specific class of creative identities?


Coming Anarchy, a tdaxp series:
Coming Anarchy 1: Introduction
Coming Anarchy 2: Methods and Analysis
Coming Anarchy 3: Identity
Coming Anarchy 4: Failure
Coming Anarchy 5: Obsession
Coming Anarchy 6: Sacrifices
Coming Anarchy 7: Humility
Coming Anarchy 8: Geography
Coming Anarchy 9: Recognition
Coming Anarchy 10: The Gap
Coming Anarchy 11: Conclusion

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