Creativity: The Shameful Truth

creativity, failure, shane burroughs, inspiration, facebook, cadbury

How ready are you to fail for the sake of your success? Shane Burroughs explores how some of the world’s greatest innovators embrace their failures in order to acquire such greatness.

Let me ask you a question.

In your opinion, what personality trait is mostly likely to lead to a life filled with failure?

You might think that answer is bone idle laziness, brutish ignorance, a complete lack of ambition or some equally negative trait.  Surprisingly, the answer is none of these! They don’t even come close, because the trait most likely to cause failure is creativity. Even in its mildest form, creativity delivers failure in abundance.

This isn’t just an unsupported opinion; there is plenty of evidence. The person who is held by many to be one of the most creative inventors of the industrial era developed more than 10,000 failed prototypes for just one of his ideas. The most creative painter of the modern era produced more 13,500 paintings, 99.9% of which you will never have seen or even heard of. The world’s most creative and most important animator filed for bankruptcy 7 times while trying to establish his animation studio.

It seems that Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso and Walt Disney bounced happily from failure to failure all of their lives, and yet they were tremendously successful people.

Move Fast and Break Things

Recently I attended a presentation given by a senior brand manager at Cadbury. The presentation discussed Cadbury’s new “Joyville” campaign and how Cadbury creates successful viral campaigns. I asked the speaker to tell me what Cadbury’s success-to-failure ratio is for their campaigns. The speaker was stumped at first and stood silently for a long moment before finally smiling and saying that the fail rate for their campaigns is “huge.” He said, We just give it a try and see how it works; if it doesn’t, we don’t beat ourselves up about it.” A month earlier I was at a presentation given by a director of sales at Facebook. During that presentation we were told that Facebook’s motto is “Move Fast and Break Things.” The speaker explained that at Facebook, they believe that if they are not breaking things, if they are not failing, then they are not moving fast enough. Cadbury and Facebook are failing faster and more often than most companies and as a result, they are the most successful companies in their sectors.

Fail to Succeed or Fail, to Succeed

Edison, Picasso, Disney, Cadbury, and Facebook learned that to be creative we have to venture new ground at the of risk failure, because always knowing what you are doing and always doing what you know is not a recipe for creativity: it’s the fast track to irrelevance.

Today, the most ambitious companies know that they have just two options; they can “fail to succeed” or they can “fail, to succeed.”

What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?


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Image courtesy of the author


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  1. […] Let me ask you a question. In your opinion, what personality trait is mostly likely to lead to a life filled with failure? By Shane Burroughs.  […]

  2. […] just read an article on the Good Men Project that states creativity is the personality trait linked to the highest rate […]

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