Why We Need to Make Epic Fails


A few weeks ago my university held its summer commencement. While I’m obviously proud of the students from my department, the reading of what feels like 9,847 names can be a bit laborious.

But we usually have good speakers at our annual event, and this year was no different. We conferred a Doctorate of Humane Letters degree to this guy who made his mark in the 80s and 90s creating the now-legendary Michael Jordan/Spike Lee “It Must Be The Shoes”  Nike campaign. It reversed the brand’s decline and vaulted them to the stratospheric heights they still occupy in the shoe category.

He approached the podium, turned to the university president, apologized for what in his mind was obviously a massive mistake (his receiving an honorary degree) and then launched into a series of short stories about epic, abject failure.

Each story was about a person who tried to something and failed at it – the failure being the genesis for a future product or service that became a smash hit.

  • Mr. Kellogg, a strict Seventh Day Adventist, inventing corn flakes
  • Play Doh’s beginnings as a wallpaper cleaner
  • A crabby chef making super thin “french fries” for a complaining customer that one Herman Lay ( the potato chip wizard) ended up selling from the back of his car.

He ended his speech with a cliché that delivered so authentically I felt like I was hearing it for the first time: ” If you’re going to fail, go big: really big. You’re taking the first step toward making the world a better place.”

It reminded me of something Steve Jobs once said, something I remind my students of constantly.

“Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people who were no smarter than you.”

We have to stop waiting for the perfect time to change our trajectory. Like the legendary ad tells us…

Just Do It.

Picture of John ScottJohn Scott is the Career Services Manager and an instructor at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. His latest book “You. Employed: why winners get jobs” is in the Amazon book store.


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