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Be freaking brilliant

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My partner, Andrea, is very creative so when I have a problem or want to develop a new idea, I often seek out her opinion. This prompts a raucous round of brainstorming which inevitably produces a result that is not only satisfying, but energizing as well. We both feel victorious and Andrea often playfully raises her arms and shouts, “I am freaking brilliant!”

Want to know how to be freaking brilliant? Celebrate your failures and learn from them. There is a whole Institute devoted to this idea. Really. The Institute of Brilliant Failures “aims to promote a positive attitude toward failures.” The website lists dozens of famous and not-so-famous failures that resulted in new products, creative development ideas, and personal growth for individuals.

The founder of The Institute, Paul Iske, cites the creation of Viagra as an example of a brilliant failure. Viagra was originally developed to treat angina. It failed miserably. But it did have this side effect that seemed promising . . . You know the rest of the story.

Iske says that most people are too afraid of failure to change, thus we take fewer risks and innovation decreases. This doesn’t make sense to him. “Think about it,” he said in a 2011 Tedx Talk, “If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it innovation.”

More sites are popping up now that are dedicated to learning from failures. Check out AdmittingFailure and FailFaire to see how nonprofits and businesses are publicly sharing their failures so that all can see what doesn’t work in order to make something that does.

I love this idea of brilliant failures. How many times have you stopped innovating in your personal life due to a failure? What would happen if we changed the culture of failure from something shameful to something to celebrate?

In our brainstorming sessions, most of the ideas Andrea and I come up with won’t or don’t work. They fail. But out of these failed creations spring “side effect” ideas that eventually lead us to the one that does work.

It’s freaking brilliant.

Takeaway points: Failure has a bad rap in our society. When something doesn’t work in your life, look for the side effects and see if a new idea or solution is in there.

What have you learned from your brilliant failures?

Next time: Letting go of control to make failures more brilliant.

If you liked this post, you may also want to read Falling Flat with a Thud and Choosing to Expand.


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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.