The Power of Failure and the Success It Can Bring

Fail Harder
Image courtesy of fekaylius


Two words that, when placed together, create an idea much bigger than themselves. These two words are emblazoned on a wall at Wieden & Kennedy's main office - an image made entirely of thumbtacks; over 100,000 of them to be more accurate.

Of course, it would have been easier to create those words with the thumbtacks, and leave the space around them blank.

That's not the W&K way. Instead, the negative space is filled with the thumbtacks, leaving the words FAIL HARDER, in a beautifully scripted font, to shine through.

It took 351 hours to complete.

In essence, they chose the hard way to get the message across. This is in the DNA of one of the most successful, and most creative, advertising agencies in the world. And it underlines one of the most important lessons in advertising:


It's often said that one of the greatest motivators of creativity, in the advertising and design industry, is fear.

  • Fear of missing a deadline.
  • Fear of disappointing the creative director.
  • Fear of having the client reject everything.
  • Fear of looking bad in a presentation.
  • Fear of doing irrelevant, invisible, or bad advertising.

While those are all legitimate fears, they should never be encouraged. Creative people put those pressures on themselves anyway, so if you're in a position of power in an ad agency, don't reinforce them. You're turning failure into a negative, when in fact, it is absolutely necessary for creative exploration.

Famous People Agree, Failure Is Essential.

Consider these quotes from some great people who achieved great things:

"I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work." - Thomas Edison

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." - Sir Winston Churchill

"There is no such thing as failure. There are only results." - Tony Robbins

"Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement." - C.S. Lewis

"Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness." - Oprah Winfrey

"Failure is success if we learn from it." - Malcolm S. Forbes

There's a noticeable pattern emerging - one of learning from mistakes, and exploration. Failure is not pleasant. But it does teach us something if we're open-minded and are ready to learn from it.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to treat failure with the respect it deserves from now on.

As a creative, either a copywriter, art director or designer, stop being afraid to fail. Throw all your ideas out there. See what sticks, and what doesn't. Sometimes, two seemingly awful ideas will give birth to a great one. What do you have to lose?

As someone who judges creative, either as a creative director, account person, or client, don't dismiss ideas so quickly. Yes, they may have failed. But do they teach you something? Is there a gem hidden in that pile of rocks? Do not berate the architects of those failures.

Remember, you can't get to a "Just Do It" or a "Got Milk" without taking a few stumbles along the way.