Usually, the easiest way to get to know yourself is to really look hard at your successes and your failures.
But if you don't know why you failed then how can you prevent it from happening again?
If I talk about how I have failed, won't funders and patrons see me as a failure?
Failure is scary, but here is the good news: Everyone Fails
The difference is the way you respond to failure. If you allow it to cripple you, or if you sweep it under the rug as though it never happened then you can't learn from it. That is how people and organizations end up in ruts.
Okay, fine. I will look at my failures, but what in the world am I looking for?
It comes down to three easy steps:
Define success? Really? Everyone knows what success is: Continuing to do work.
If that's true then how do you measure the success of one time projects?
success is more than what is easily seen.
If success is only about the number of people who see your work or the amount of money you raise then you are limiting your growth to only things that can be validated by the outside world.
success comes in many forms
So, the first step in looking at your failures is to decide if they really were failures. Ask yourself:
- Did you try something you had never tried before?
- Did you expand your artistic boundaries?
- Did you learn more about the experiences of other people?
- Did you bring attention to your brand from a new demographic?
- Did you bring people together for a unique experience?
- Was the project completed without murder?
The definition of success is unique to each artist and each project.
Wait, I thought this whole website was about how to use data and numbers. Now youre saying numbers aren't important?
No, Im saying numbers like income and attendance cant be the only ones you pay attention to.
You measure what you treasure, so you treasure what you measure.
Once, you decide what is important to you, be it influence or experimentation or something else entirely, you have to set benchmarks for how you know you are meeting that goal.
For example, a symphony's upcoming presentation of : Star Trek: the score. The symphony decides the main goal of this performance is to reach and engage a new subset of the population. they create the following measurements to track:
number of website hits from sci-fi origins.
number of facebook shares of special "cosplay performance"
how many people have never bought tickets before this event.
number of facebook reviews following the event.
These numbers are more than who sees their show and how much money they make. They paint a picture of how visible their business is. while this concert may ultimately lose them money, it won't be a failure if it brings a new group of individuals into the building.
Once you decide what success is, you get to decide what numbers are important and you can use those numbers to report back to your funders and board and donors.
So, I just get to decide whether or not I have failed? How does that teach me anything?
You get to decide what success looks like. That doesn't mean you will always succeed.
the numbers arent always on your side
once you have defined success and set benchmarks, you have to monitor your progress on those benchmarks. If you set out to reach 10,000 new fans and you only reach 5,000, you have to be willing to accept your failure and devise a plan to avoid continued failure.
The secret is: you have to define success before your project. You cant decide afterward.
I still don't get it though. Why shouldn't I be afraid of failure?
failure shows you what doesn't work.
Everytime you fail at something, it is because something doesn't work. That means next time, you can mark that idea off of your list. If you arent failing, you aren't pushing or learning or growing.
In her Ted Talk below, Sarah Lewis explains how failure by near miss can compel us to do better.