It is ok to fail.
This was the one message I heard over and over during SXSW. We all understand the premise of this simple statement, yet acting as if failure is an acceptable outcome is incredibly difficult. Nobody likes to be wrong, or to fail. But it happens, and we need to accept that. We need to channel Al Franken’s daily affirmation, look in the mirror and say, “I have failed…and that’s…ok.”
Almost everyone I saw – from entrepreneurs, to data scientists, to film stars – talked about failure. They all have overcome some failure, and in the process of admitting it, have emerged stronger and smarter. Adam Savage of Mythbusters said, “Failure is the most important thing in science. We all need to be comfortable in talking about and encouraging failure. Only when you fail do you truly know your limits, and where you sweet spot actually lies.”
If you know me, or have worked with me, you hopefully will not say that I am a controlling person who defines success by always being right. I love winning as much as the next person, but I have a very relaxed attitude when it comes to failures, and look at it as an opportunity to do better.
However, when I look at my attitude toward my kids, I find that I am not as calm and accepting of mistakes. It truly is crazy. I obsess over the minor details of a marker on the wall or a toy being thrown at someone else. Why? I inherently take on responsibility for the mistake, because that is my child. But if I don’t allow them to make mistakes, I am keeping them from learning and growing. Sound familiar? The same applies to advertising.
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson had this to say about making mistakes:
“When your kid goes into the fridge and pulls out an egg, the first thing you say is don’t do that, it might break! I say, no, let that one play out. Of course the egg is going to break on the floor! But your kid will learn something about brittleness, that something can be hard but not strong. And he’ll learn what’s inside an egg, and then you can say, whoa, that was almost a chicken! That’ll blow the mind of your kid. What does an egg cost you, 20 cents? I know you don’t want to waste food, but 20 cents, that’s a cheap price for an education.”
Kids are not always perfect, and neither are the campaigns that we create. But that’s ok—because failure is not a reflection of who we are as people; it’s an opportunity for growth. A lot of times we have a desire to only present the positive part of a campaign, but we are only setting ourselves up for long term failure by not sharing the entire picture. When our teams and clients get used to only hearing good news, they will naturally freak out if anything goes wrong.
Ultimately, we need to get to a place where can clearly show that idea X didn’t completely work because of parameter Y, and that next time we are going to approach it with this new idea Z. We need to plan out experiments along the way and use analytics to help guide the process.
Yes, the ideas we execute cost way more than the price of an egg, and the outcomes are more difficult to clean up than a messy floor, but our ideas, our teams and our clients deserve to know what we learned from our mistakes. We need to let go and acknowledge that there will be failures…and that’s ok.
In business today, many feel trapped by the amount of data that is created by the marketplace interacting with our brands. We feel compelled to measure and have a desire to understand every ounce of data, every tweet and every line of a report. Data is real time, complex and a seemingly uphill battle in regard to the exponential rate at which it is created. More data was produced in 2011 than in the entire history of mankind through 2010! What do we do? How do we give our data relevance and meaning? Is it possible to transform our data into information? Ultimately, how do we produce actionable business insights from data that allow us to make decisions to move our brands forward? To get a handle on the fire hose of ones and zeroes, we must define success, categorize data into relevant groups, integrate analytics into every department, use the correct tools and automate this process.
Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.” It is easy to want to measure everything, but it takes true talent to show that what you are measuring is important. This is the single greatest thing to focus on and will allow you to filter out the noise. Concentrate on segmenting your data to expose a possible insight into understanding a specific persona that aligns most appropriately with your brand. Invest in the time to understand what data you can access and choose tools that allow you to quickly transform that into bite-size portions of information. Additionally, one must be patient, because it takes time to correctly set up a process to understand and process your data.