January 17, 2013

An Evening on Failure




Even after graduation, I have always been fascinated by the topic of Failure along with the stigma and emotional aspects surrounding it. After my experience of failing in architecture school (a crash and burn experience, to say the least), failure has been a subject that I have been interested in trying to make personal meaning with. So, being an architecture student that failed, where do I go? A few nights ago, I recently attended an event dedicated to the subject of Failure and looking at it in different perspectives.

The talk about Failure was part of an ongoing series, Presence of Passionate People (PoPP) Talks created by UExperience, an organization dedicated to creating a unique learning community and network. The event looked at failure from a variety of perspectives involving discussion from both the speakers and audience members of what failure means to us, how to de-stigmatize failure, how do we come to terms with failure, even from our personal experience.


The event consisted from a variety of great individuals who shared their experience with the theme about failing:

Jamie Miller, a PhD Candidate at OCAD University, took a look at Failure under the lenses of biomimicry – looking at how we can learn from nature and its ability to stand resilient in handling catastrophe and disaster. He looked at the importance of failure in terms of scale and the need for biodiversity in an ecological system to comfortably allow species to adapt and thrive – contextualizing how we can create an environment that can foster failure to allow for growth and managing failure.

Ilana Ben-Ari, a product designer, designs toys to teach, educate and empower. After designing a toy to teach empathy, her recent project involves designing a toy to teach failure. She talked about her experiences with failure and her research on teaching failure to children. She made a good point that we need to fail often and fail fast.

Adil Dhalla, an entrepreneur, shared his personal experience about failure and how opening up significantly helped him in his career. He began to challenge the stigma surrounding failure, making known that there is nothing to be ashamed about failure unless we allow it to defeat us and make us immobile. We need to open up to get the help of friends and loved ones to help us get back up after failure. There is a lot of personal and emotional baggage that weighs down when we fall. You social support system is a great way to elevate you in your darkest moments

The evening also included a question and answer period with audience members. Here is just a snippet of some excellent points that came out from the dialogue generated from both the audience members and the speakers:
  • We have to be cognizant of when is the appropriateness to teach failure or to fail in general (e.g. not appropriate for professionals like architects and doctors to clumsily fail in practice and carrying legal responsibilities versus a student making mistakes to learn)
  • We need to temper ourselves with failure, in order to push and to challenge ourselves. From the speakers: fail often, fail early, fail quick, and fail at small scales to challenge and push yourself to learn.
  • I posed a question about vulnerability playing a crucial role in choosing the fight or flight response to failure. We have to get used to the feeling of uncertainty and learn how to be comfortable in our own skin. We have to be willing to open up in order to seek the help we need. Jamie’s point that vulnerability is an essential piece to being resourceful in seeking information to improve and thrive.
  • Ilana made a comment that failure is like a muscle that must be honed and trained. Design Iterations are a sign of failure and we bounce back up and improve.
  • It is not surprising that failure is stigmatized, our educational system denounces and frowns on it, and we all put our efforts into something we do and fail, there is so much baggage that has accumulated with it.
  • We have to ultimately learn how to progress after failure – what matters is how you pick yourself up and how do you make it better. 
  • Failure should be seen as part of the progress as opposed to an end result.
    (check out my early blog post from two years go, Failing and Being a Failure)

I really enjoyed the discussions from the talk. I could easily relate my experience of failing studio, a few years back, to the experiences of what speakers shared. After graduation, I have been attending more leadership and entrepreneurial events to open myself to a world outside of architecture. Events like this are beneficial for a lot us design students and grads to take away wisdom from entrepreneurs and innovators on the various challenges in dealing with running a business to being an innovator.

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