Jake sent me an e-mail about Chris Anderson’s appearance on Charlie Rose. The TED Conference Chris Anderson.
And as Charlie does, which usually bugs me, there’s an opening roll of greatest hits, in this case the greatest TED speakers.
And I didn’t recognize the one guy who said we’re driving the creativity right out of our kids. But I agree with him. That’s my college experience in a nutshell. Didn’t matter what I thought, what did the great thinkers of all time believe? That was the English department at Middlebury College. The creative writing department? A guy who wrote unsuccessful sea stories, who told me my piece needed a twist. Ever hear of the New Journalism? Which was even old back then? I didn’t write another thing for fifteen years.
But after this English gentleman came a legendary director we’d all recognize, only I didn’t, I was surfing another site while I was listening. But what James Cameron said was:
"Failure has to be an option."
Whoa, isn’t this what killed the major labels? They wanted to eliminate all the failure! You can’t trust the act you sign, you’ve got to hook ‘em up with famous songwriters, you’ve got to use the name producer, you’ve got to buy insurance.
"Failure has to be an option, in art and in exploration. Because it’s a leap of faith. And no important endeavor that required innovation was done without risk. You have to be willing to take those risks."
It hurts to fail.
But if you come to bat more than once every two or three years, you’re gonna get better, you’re gonna learn something, your odds of success increase.
I know everything I write isn’t great. Pains me to no end. Because I know great. And when I hit it over the fence, I’m elated, and e-mail praising me rains down. And when I don’t…I get silence. And I judge whether I’m on the right track by the response, not always the quantity, but certainly the quality.
I never write anything terrible, I’m too many miles in.
But when I write something great, I know I’ll get a response. And I do. I tingle.
Now my best writing is when I’m inspired. It’s like I’m struck by lightning, I can’t get to the computer fast enough. But if I always waited for that jolt of electricity, when I received it, what I wrote would not be as good. Because my failures teach me things. However wrenching they might be, I learn when I don’t succeed.
And you do too.
It’s the nature of the game.
Why do we expect everything an artist does to be great?
You know why the Top Forty wonders of the moment are here today and gone tomorrow? Because no one believes it’s really them, they believe the success is the team. Because they’ve seen no development, no failure.
And artistic history is littered with that which was considered to be a failure, unreleasable, which ultimately turned out to be legendary.
Why was it held back? Because some suit unable to fail said no.
Suits in art should be encouragers and enablers, not people who say no. If you can’t trust the artist, you’ve got no art. Artists are vulnerable, their hit to shit ratio is not a hundred to one. But the more shit you compose, the more hits you end up with. Isn’t that Gladwell’s model? That by playing dives 1,000 times the Beatles learned how to be good? How do we expect acts to be great live when they’ve barely ever plied the boards?
Now the cost of production is cheap. You can experiment for free. Or close to it. Are you following Adam Duritz’s "All My Bloody Valentines" giveaway? Excellent idea. Brilliant execution. But the tracks are for fans only.
But I’d still check out the next thing Adam did. Even though these cuts are subpar, maybe he was too concerned with process and next time he can focus on quality.
So stop polishing to perfection, rubbing all the good parts off, and focus on creating. Sure, you’re gonna be hurt and abused when you fail, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick yourself up and succeed in the future.
What’s great about TED is it’s not about money, but thought. That’s what truly changes the world.
And one great thought in an artistic piece can change lives.
But greatness only comes when you challenge convention, test the limits, try new things and are willing to fail.
Look at all the songs that are professionally recorded, even serviceable, but they just don’t get your blood to boil. Wasn’t that the point of Nirvana? That raw and unpolished can resonate with the public? Kurt Cobain killed the labored power ballad paradigm overnight. Because it was calculated, it was without risk.
Watching James Cameron I was inspired. Even though I like what he’s got to say more than his movies. And ain’t that the point, it’s not about loving everything someone does, but the nuggets.
"In whatever you’re doing, failure is an option, but fear is not."