Posts Tagged ‘success’

Yesterday we looked at failing like a scientist and today I need to reiterate it. A scientist who fears failure is doomed. Scientists’ lives depend on failure. One of the great minds of science, Albert Einstein once said, “A problem will never be solved using the same level of thinking it took to create it.” Further he said the more famous, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” The essence of both sayings is the same, to solve our problems, we have to try new and different things, otherwise a new old saying will come to bear, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” Problems are almost exclusively solved by trying something new.

Of course, as we venture into uncharted territory, the risk of failure looms even larger than usual. The scientist is okay with this, because failure is a mighty tool in his arsenal. He tries something knowing the odds of failure in the first attempt, and sometimes the second and third, and occasionally the thousandth, are probably quite high. Rather than fearing the failure, he takes notes of what worked and what didn’t and then changes the variables until he arrives at success. Even if success never comes, much has been learned that will guide him to another idea and a better solution. That’s the power of failure. It allows us to learn from our mistakes, and move toward solving the problem before us. I call it failing forward and I believe it is essential not just for scientists, but for all of us, especially those with a creative bent.

Consider a baby. He doesn’t try walking once and then give up. Nor do we who love him say, “Oh well, you tried.” Unless that child has a physiological reason why walking is impossible, we pick them up, dry their tears (if there are any) and set them back on the path until walking becomes second nature. That is called growth, and growth almost never comes from instantaneous success. Rather it comes from trial and error, learning from the error until success is imminent.

My first drawing, at least the first one my mom kept, is quite good for a three year old (and yes, I was three when I did it!). That being said, it pales in comparison to what I can do now 53 years later. The reason for that is the hundreds and thousands of drawings and other art pieces I have done in the interim. Some of those pieces made me very happy, others I would consider failures, but each of those pieces led to me being able to do the best work of my life, and yet I know, if I live and my physical capacities remain as they are, I will be doing much better work in twenty years than I can today.

The reason is simple. I have determined to risk creative failure every day to that end. That’s the power of failure. If you want to be truly successful, fail and fail often, but whatever you do, fail forward.

This year, I am going to post creative challenges from God’s Word, the idea is simple, read the passage and create something based on it.

Matthew 23:11-12

A few words on greatness from God’s perspective. How can you use your gifts to be great in the Kingdom today?

I’ve been doing some thinking lately on this topic. When it comes to my ministry and yours, what is our responsibility? It may not be what you think. Here’s what I mean. I tend to work really hard. While I know all glory belongs to God, I am also fully aware that I have work to do. There is a part in my ministry that is my responsibility. The thing is, more often than not, I get it wrong. You see I tend work as if the success or failure of the enterprise belong to me and that the outcome depends on me. That’s not the case.

The success of any ministry or other enterprise, totally and completely belongs to God. Because of this, that responsibility is His and that is a very good thing, because only He really understands what success means. Thing about Jesus. He worked for three years and ended up with a core group of 12 followers. That would get Him fired in a lot of churches today. That’s because we don’t understand success. Jesus invested in those 12 men and they in turn were used by God to change the world. Jesus’ ministry probably didn’t look like a success “on paper” but on the pages of God’s Word we see something different happen, success beyond measure, because God can use anyone to do anything. Success is His. It all depends on Him.

So if that’s the case, and it is, what is your responsibility, and mine? One word, faithfulness. We are told in Scripture to make the most of every opportunity and that is the key. You use your every God given gift, to the best of your ability and trust everything else to God. Too many people want to make serving God about their ability. They throw around words like excellence, and we should strive for excellence, but that begs a question. In the world of faithfulness, how do we define excellence? I believe there is only one way. Have we worked to the best of our ability today? In faithfulness, that is the best we can do. From there it is in God’s hands. This is important in every walk of life, but it’s crucial when you live in the very subjective area of the arts and creativity. Is Picasso excellent or is Rembrandt? Is Pollack excellent or is Van Gogh? The answer to all the questions is yes. They did their best, found their audience and blessed them. In creative ministry, the same rules apply. Bring your best to the table and trust God to use it to bless people, knowing full well that if we persist in working and bringing our best it will get better and better and bless more and more.

If you’re a creative, learn this now. You will not please everyone every time no matter what you do. So create work that pleases God and be faithful.

That’s your responsibility. Everything else is up to God.

Okay, time for another confession. I would love to win the Powerball. I mean they regularly rack up prizes in the hundreds of millions of dollars and I could really use that kind of money. I could help a lot of people with a hundred million dollars. I also could make all my creative dreams come true. Yessiree I would love to hit the Powerball, but there’s a problem.

I don’t believe in gambling. I don’t play the lottery as a matter of conscience and faith. You can disagree if you want and I won’t hold it against you, but for me this is a line I won’t cross. Now of course, I know what some of you might be thinking…

You can’t win if you don’t play.

And if you’re thinking that, you’re absolutely right and this principle can be applied to your creative dreams as well. So many people want to do great creative things. They dream of writing the great American novel, hanging a painting in the Louvre, winning a Grammy, an Oscar, a Tony, of having a hit single or any of the other ways creatives measure success. Unfortunately dreaming is all they do and that will never get it done.

We have to give legs to our dreams. We need to do the hard work of bringing our dreams to reality. We have to create and we have to share those creations with the world. We have to make our best work, put it out there and keep improving. We have to do create every day. We have to perfect our craft and we have to let people know about it. What is an artist? Someone who makes art! What are you making? What are you doing? Are you sharing what you do? Are you putting it out there? If not, how do you expect people to find you.

You might think, “Well I’m not good enough yet.” How do you know if you haven’t tried. I’ve put out multiple books this year and a lot of work went into them and so far, no raging successes. So I’ve decided to give up… WRONG! I’m working on another book. I’m taking a different approach. I know who I am, I know my goals and my mission and so I keep working at it. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a NY Times best seller but then again that’s not my primary goal. My mission in life is to help people embrace their creativity and come to know love and follow Jesus and use their gifts to serve Him. Who knows maybe this book will be the one to take my career over the top, help me reach the masses, and add fuel to the creative ministry movement. Will it? I don’t know. In this creative life there are no guarantees. Oh wait, there is one…

You can’t win if you don’t play!

wcfieldsOkay, I will admit, while I try not to get frustrated, there is one thing that will always put me over the edge. You get an idea, you present it and someone says, “We tried that…” The implication being that, “We did it. It failed. We’re never doing that again.” I hope people don’t approach their whole lives like that.

Now I will admit, there is such a thing as knowing when to quit. Every day of my Jr. High gym class years, I passed by a poster the teacher hung in the locker room. It held a picture of W.C. Fields saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again… Then quit, no use being a ___ fool about it.” I’m not sure it had the effect my teacher desired in my case because I applied that philosophy to things like pull-ups, chin-ups and rope climbing. I’ve never done any of those. There is a time to give up, but I think most of us think we hit that point a long time before we actually do.

A big part of a successful creative life, is allowing yourself to fail, and then allowing yourself to take what you learned and try again. Remember creativity is solving problems and not all those solutions are going to be easy. Some are going to require a lot of different efforts and sometimes you’re going to need to do something more than once in order to succeed.

Some of the problems we need to solve are huge and some are “life and death” at least for the organizations we serve. Looking to the past, saying we tried something once and giving up is really not an option. If we’re truly committed to solving a problem, we will keep trying things until something solves the problem. There is a name for people who do that…


Keep trying until something works. Do that until it stops working and while it’s still working figure out what’s next. Then start doing that as soon as the first thing stops working. Then just repeat this process infinitely.

YOURENOTCOVERI say it here a lot, but failure is part of the creative process and a necessity to creative success. After all the only people who never fail are God and people who never try anything new. Since we’re not God and creativity is all about trying new things, failure is inevitable. PERIOD! Since failure is part of the creative life, we creatives need to learn to fail forward.

The first step is to start ,and fear of failure keeps more people from starting than any of us will ever know, largely because these great things they should have started never made it out of their imagination. Once you have started, the next step is to finish, but before you’re completely finished, it’s a good idea to take the idea far enough so that someone else can see it and share it. This might be a drawing or a mock up, maybe even a prototype, depending on what you do. The idea here is to get some feedback before you’ve invested tons of time and money in something that is not going to work, because nothing crushes the creative spirit faster than an epic fail (especially if other people’s money is involved.)

Please note I am not necessarily talking about sharing this half formed idea with the world and certainly not with people who are consistently nay sayers, but with a couple of visionary people (you should be building this group if you haven’t already) who can look at an idea and see potential. The main thing with this group of people is that they can be constructive. In some cases one or two will not see it yet. Most of the time, this is not yet time to put on the brakes. If everyone sees too many fatal flaws, it may be time to scrap the idea, but more than likely, it’s just time to go back to the drawing board and work out through the flaws. By the way, I am not a fan of scrapping any ideas. There are some ideas that may just be miles ahead of their time and the rest of the world, technology, etc. may just not have caught up yet.

Now suppose everyone thinks your idea is the best thing since sliced bread (what did they say before sliced bread was invented?), what do you do next? The obvious answer is to finish it and make the thing real. Here we need to set a deadline. When will you release your project? Set a realistic deadline and stick with it. Here’s why. Fear of failure is still out there and at this stage it manifests in endless tweaking rather than what must be done. What’s that? It needs to be released, It needs to be shipped. It needs to be shared with the world however that happens in your world. You send the manuscript to the editor. You release the song. You perform the play. You hang your painting in the gallery or wherever you put your work.

Here’s the thing, even with all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted, there will still be times where your work will flop. You will still fail. What to do then? Learn and move forward. If your work is flawed, fix it and try again. If it feels hopeless, put it aside and start the next thing, remembering you’re not a failure, you just tried something and it didn’t work (for now). For scientists, this is called an experiment. Thank God they don’t quite when one of those fails because they fail by the millions daily. They learn from what didn’t work, and try something new. We creatives have to do the same thing. While focus is huge, you should always have another idea on the back burner. The reason is simple. We get invested in what we do, sometimes so invested that we will wallow in a failure and give up. The only fatal failure is the one that makes you quit. Don’t do it. Get right back on the proverbial horse and start again. Fail forward until eventually you succeed…

and you will succeed.

I’ve posted several times about why this word “excellence” makes me cringe. I feel like so often it’s wielded almost like a weapon that the gatekeepers use to keep people out and I hate that. I feel it has little to no place in the church of Jesus Christ. How to people become excellent without support and encouragement and what is excellence really? I’m of the belief that excellence is the best I can do today and that if I am encouraged to reach that level of excellence (the only one I can) every day, the level of excellence will rise.

I’m sure some will cringe at this statement. They picture a world where the church is buried in substandard stuff, and artists with a “good enough for church” attitude. That is totally not what I am saying. I heard the most fantastic analogy of this yesterday from my friend and District Executive Craig Smith. While he related it to faith, it applies to creative enterprise as well. Imagine a child just learning to walk. Walking is the standard and the only acceptable objective. When the child takes a few steps and falls, we do not berate him, rather we kneel down and encourage him to get up and keep moving forward. This is how to get excellence out of people, and there is no other way, at least not one acceptable in the Kingdom.

So here’s what we need to do, ditch the world’s view of excellence and adopt the attitude of excellence by encouragement, and while we’re at it church, let’s become excellent encouragers, spurring one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). Let’s provide venues where people can learn and grow. Let’s provide safe places to fail and encouragements to get up and proceed.

Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings.” In the arts we get skilled, we become excellent, by trial and error and trying again. There is no other way in the creative realm. Creativity requires experimentation and experimentation has within it a high possibility of failure. It’s imperative that creatives work each day at becoming excellent, and we need the support of others along the way.

Well as you know this is the year of creativity here at AMOKArts. This means that in addition to all the things I listed in my earlier post. I will be doing a lot of reading on the topic of creativity. The first book I am reading (besides the Bible, by the way did you know you can read the whole Bible in a year reading just 3.25 chapters a day?) is a book called Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull.

Though I am only at about 20% read, I am loving this book. Catmull is one of the founders of one of the most creative companies of all time, Pixar and while this is a business book, full of good business principles, it reads like a memoir. Fascinating stuff.

When one looks at a company like Pixar, it would be amazingly easy to think that the company has always been a smashing success. Nothing could be further from the truth. In some very real ways, the folks at Pixar were inventing computer animation at a time when computer technology was far behind the ambitions of Catmull and his team. They not only had to deal with these limitations, they had to invent their way around them. Then consider their trajectory. After a few stops in academia, they landed with George Lucas after that minor success known as Star Wars. Financial stresses eventually made Lucas attempt to sell off the computer animation division. After several sales fell through, they ended up being purchased by Steve Jobs, who had just been kicked out of the company he founded, Apple computer. Jobs’ intention was to turn Pixar into a hardware company selling the high end animation computer they had been developing. This was miles off of the original dream of creating the first computer animated feature film. This hardware venture also failed miserably.

Finally, Disney came into the picture, contracting Pixar to make what would become Toy Story. At one point, Jeffrey Katzenberg of Disney pushed Pixar to change the character of Woody the Cowboy to be more edgy. When Pixar presented the tests they made on this new version of Woody, Disney hated it so badly that they halted production, until Pixar rewrote the whole thing, which by the way meant they took the character of Woody back to the way they intended to create him in the first place. Of course, Toy Story was an amazing success and the rest is History.

Why do I share this story? First of all because you have got to read this book! Secondly, I believe it is crucial that we remember, the road to success is often EXTREMELY bumpy and lastly, perseverance is crucial. sometimes you have to stick to your original vision, even when people who seem to know are trying to steer you in a different direction.

It worked for Pixar. Maybe it will work for you.

There is a question that will endanger/stifle/maybe even kill your creativity. There is also a question that will launch your creativity. The thing is they are both the same question, two words, “What if…” On one side we ask questions like “What if it doesn’t work?” “What if it fails?” “What if people don’t like it?” What if? What if? What if? We creatives can “What if” ourselves to our creative death.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to question yourself and your motivations from time to time. After all the Bible tells us the human heart is deceptive and counting the cost is a good thing, but when to comes to our God given ideas and talents, we can “What if” ourselves into disobedience.

Of course there is a better side to “What if…” A positive side, a side that opens us up to dreams and visions and awesome possibilities. So when you find yourself on the negative side of “What if…” flip it around. “What if it doesn’t work?” Yes but what if it does?” “What if it fails?” “Yes, but what if it succeeds?” “What if People Don’t Like it? “Yes, but what if they do?” or maybe “Yes, but what if it touches one heart?” “What if it lights a fire in one heart or changes someone’s life?” “What if it touches many hearts?” “What if it starts a positive revolution?”

The negative side of “what if” looks at the impossibilities, but with God all things are possible and we can do all things through Him who gives us strength.

It’s okay to check yourself, but don’t “what if” yourself into disobedience. Don’t “what if” yourself out of success.

Don’t what if yourself out of your creative destiny.

You can do what God has called you to do. No “what ifs” About it.

One of my friends posted this to Facebook and I thought it was a great reminder of what so many posts have been about lately.
People who say failure is not an option are either bomb technicians or wrong.