Welcome to the Failure Conference

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” — Brene Brown

I hope you are familiar with the work of Brene Brown. Brene is a shame researcher and the author of several fantastic bestselling books on the power of vulnerability, the gifts of imperfection and daring greatly. She’s delivered two of the most popular TED talks of all time. She’s been on Oprah. Yeah, she’s kind of a big deal.

“You know what the big secret about TED is? I can’t wait to tell people this. I guess I’m doing it right now. (Laughter) This is like the failure conference. No, it is. (Applause) You know why this place is amazing? Because very few people here are afraid to fail. And no one who gets on the stage, so far that I’ve seen, has not failed. I’ve failed miserably, many times.”

In her most recent TED talk, one of the many powerful things Brene said was this:

Quite a few years ago now I had a one-on-one session with the CEO for a retailer I was working with to discuss a new venture my team was about to propose. Maybe two minutes into our meeting he paused dramatically, looked at me very seriously and said “Steve, here’s the thing. We can’t have this fail. We can’t afford another one (and here he mentioned a shuttered new store concept from a few years earlier which, as an aside, was doomed from the start by several bad assumptions). I don’t want to take any risk. None. Do you understand?”

Yeah, I understood.

I was screwed. We were screwed.

Needless to say, innovation, creativity and change were hardly the hallmarks of our culture during that time. Any progress we made was, shall we say, not so easily won.

If we are committed to innovation, we are signing up for failure. It’s not being reckless or incompetent. It is accepting that failure comes with the territory. The key is not to avoid failing. The key is to fail better.

If we are committed to creativity, we are vulnerable to criticism. Any time we put something really new and interesting out into the world and say “ here I made this” judgment (and perhaps outright scorn) is almost certain to follow.

And yet if we need to bridge the chasm from laggard and also ran to memorable and remarkable we can’t let this stop us. If we want to make a dent in the universe, big or small, we must take the plunge.

When we are committed to meaningful change, we are almost certain to be walking straight into gale force headwinds. Vested interests and defenders of the status quo may well confront us at every turn. Stay the course. In fact, perhaps that’s a signal take our foot off the brake and step on the gas.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson-and frankly I still fight The Resistance every single day-but I know I do my best work when I push through my fear, when I allow myself to be vulnerable, when I accept that failure is inherent to any growth process. As Steven Pressfield reminds us “the real artist is terrified every day.”

I hope to see you at the next failure conference. Why don’t we sit right down front where everyone can see us?

This post is adapted from something I wrote a few years back, teased out in Chapter 19 of my book and we discussed on the most recent episode of the Remarkable Retail podcast (“Becoming a Retail Radical”).

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Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

Keynote speaker & strategic advisor on retail innovation. Top 10 retail influencer. Senior Forbes contributor. Best selling author of “Remarkable Retail.”

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