speak/listen

What does failure look like?

By John-Paul Flintoff

I didn’t set out to fall flat on my face. But how fantastic that it was captured on film.

When I first watched the raw, unedited footage, I felt like I might die of shame. Then I watched it a few more times – and discovered that I still might die of shame.

What to do?

I decided to show it to a massive audience, the very next day – an audience of 5,000 people looking for tips on how to change the world, at La Ciudad de las Ideas, in Mexico.

On stage, before showing it, I pointed out that sometimes speakers like me talk boldly about the need to “take risks” and “embrace failure”. Well, I didn’t want anybody to think that taking risks is easy, or that failure doesn’t hurt. It can be painful, not just at the time, but also when you look back.

And then the film started. They had no idea what they would see, and at the point in the film when I fell, I heard 5,000 people gasp.

Empathy! I started to feel just the tiniest bit better already.

Then the host of the event, Andrés Roemer, asked if I minded showing the film a second time. This time the sound that hit me was 5,000 people laughing.

And that was OK too. I was starting to see the funny side of it myself.

So: in the long run, failure may turn out not to be so bad. In fact, with enough distance, it may not even feel like failure. And it might possibly be helpful to share your so-called “failures”, because if everybody hides them, then each of us, individually, gets to feel that failure only happens to us. (But I’d like to add: it’s taken me more than a year to dare to put this film on YouTube.)

Posted: February 24, 2016