No innovation without failure, no creativity without vulnerability

This weekend I watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special for the second time. If you aren’t familiar with Brené’s work here is a link to her Ted Talk, it’s one of the most watched in the world. Her eight books have been international bestsellers and, well, she rocks. One of the many things she said that resonated with me was “There is no innovation without failure, there is no creativity without vulnerability. Period.”

It’s hard to be creative. When it works it just looks effortless, and when it doesn’t OMG it’s just a long hard slog through a cold wet landscape. Everyone is a critic and everyone has their own idea of what will work. If you’re a creative you know what I’m talking about. If you manage creatives it often seems like herding cats. The first reflex is to create order in the chaos. The second is to reign everyone in and try to get focus. And you get a boring, grumpy, frightened herd of cats. Then you have to hire an outside agency to get some new creative ideas.

There is no innovation without failure. Can you lean into that? Do you reward failure? You can’t have innovation without it.

There is no creativity without vulnerability. Do you embrace vulnerability? You can’t have creativity without it.

Let that sink in a bit and instead of trying to get your team to be creative can you get them to be more vulnerable? Instead of doing a big push to get more innovation into your teams, can you find ways to reward failure?

If you’re a creative who is struggling ask yourself if you have allowed yourself to fail? Can you open yourself up to criticism, and joy, and playfulness, and fear, and boredom, and everything else that comes up? There’s some hard work there. Embracing the suck is never fun.

I remember a marketing director saying to me once “Your belief in yourself is remarkable.” He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but once I got my teeth unclenched, I took it that way. It is so very, very hard to have anyone look at your work and say, “Not good.” or “Not good enough” or my personal favorite “Who came up with this?” even if you know it isn’t your best work. It’s even harder when you know it is your best work. How do you pick yourself up and try again without accepting failure? How do you get in touch with your creative soul if you are armored up? You can’t.

If you want to be creative, the only alternative is to be brave. Accept that you will fail and start celebrating that failure. Stay open and be vulnerable, even when your jaw is clenched so tight you think your teeth will shatter. It’s worth it.

All the best,

Sarah Fletcher

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