There aren’t all that many things I remember from my days in college. It was a very long time ago, and I wasn’t really paying that much attention. Design school isn’t particularly known for producing graduates with a long attention span. But there is one thing my favourite lecturer told my class that I will probably keep with me to my deathbed, and that is the world needs, and needs to celebrate, spectacular failures.
You can see how enamoured I was with this line of thinking by checking out my CGPA, but I digress.
A spectacular failure is something that went horribly, horribly wrong … but not for lack of trying, and definitely not due to someone following a set of rules. There are a lot of examples of this sort of doomed-to-fail endeavour, if we’d only stop to look. Bands with little or no mainstream marketability crashing onto the scene, stirring things up, only to disintegrate a year later with nary a hit single or a magazine headline to their name. Fashion labels with an impressive initial catalogue, dead in the water after their first couple of collections due to little demand or an inability to set up an effective supply chain. Blogs with plenty of spunk but no traffic, or no constant updates, or both. Did they fail? Sure. But there’s a saving grace clause to some of these instances, and it is this: if you try to do something no one’s done before, opened the playing field for others and give them ideas to build on, and yet still manage to crash and burn in an obscenely large ball of shame flames … that’s okay.
You know what? I’m going to go ahead and say that spectacular failures are more important to moving things forward than actual, quantifiable successes. Success is insular, failure is viral. If you make it – and especially if you make it following the standards of someone else’s tried and true game plan – you’re taking up valuable space for innovation. If you try something and burn out, you’re passing the lesson on to the next lunatic who wants a shot at it. But, WordsManifest, why would anyone set out to fail?, I hear you hollering. Because new things should be attempted, sometimes just for the sake of seeing if you’re going to be sucked into the toilet of what-the-hell-was-he-thinking. Spectacular failures, and the people who commit them, blaze the way for the next generation of dreamers who will most probably commit other heinous crimes against success … while succeeding where their predecessors did not.
The Boot Camp Clik wallowed in obscurity while their contemporaries the Wu-Tang Clan took over the planet. Nikola Tesla crapped out in his tech race with Thomas Edison. Google Wave is still a punchline for many dorks. Local clothing line HMCD was awesome, up until no one could find their t-shirts anywhere. But they all gave rise to a host of innovations that, while not enough to get themselves out of hock, enabled others to come out swinging armed with the knowledge that these crazy new things worked. Because of these spectacular failures, new kids on the block realized that they didn’t have to copy Jay-Z, Facebook, Obey or PopShuvit just to get a leg up. New practitioners of art and fresh faces on the scene have no right to demand instant access to acclaim, fame and fortune without doing some major faceplanting first. Paying dues isn’t following in someone’s footsteps, it’s broadening the path.
Respect the success of others, but don’t be afraid to fail on your own. You might not get the satisfaction of being the person put up on a pedestal, but that’s a pretty uncomfortable place to stand anyway. Better to go big and crash doing something no one’s done before, than pull off a clean set that no one can learn from.
A long time ago, WordsManifest tried to be an r’n’b singer. He’s a photographer now. Do the math.