In March, I wrote a blog on games vs. gamifcation. It was supposed to be the beginning of regularly sharing my learnings from the last five years of building my own business. A few days after posting it, I started another blog on failure. It has been eight months and I have not been able to get past the first sentence. The irony is not lost on me. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t sure what I wanted or needed to say – failure has become mainstream and everyone is talking about their failures and how failure needs to be part of the discourse. And I have recently realised that this was starting to sit uncomfortably with me.
Failure has become normalized and socially acceptable to the point where it could become an epidemic!
Failure had always been something that I shied away from, but in game designing, I learned that the quicker I failed, the quicker I could improve a prototype or pivot to something new. Failure was part of the process, a signal check to see if people understood or embraced what I was doing, and an indication that perhaps a reimagining was necessary. Failure spurred me to action and was a challenge to be overcome. I needed to show myself and those I worked with that from failure new opportunities could arise and that success was still my goal.
My most memorable failure was with Can I Help? After weeks of developing solid mechanics and content, we asked over 50 people to come and play. I knew we had a great game on my hands, we had tested it and it was fun! But I was still very concerned about the content as the team had no mental health background and none of the experts had validated the content. What I learned over the course of a day of play-testing was that everyone was very happy with the content, but no one understood or even enjoyed playing the game, it was too complicated! My colleague started reading the feedback surveys as the last group were still playing and started to see a huge issue; we had three days to present to the management team and no actual game! I took the feedback to heart and spent a weekend alternating between blind panic and drafting. Three days later I presented the outline of a new set of mechanics that proved to be more intuitive, more powerful, and ultimately more successful than I could ever have hoped.
Testing and being open to feedback allowed me to learn and develop a product far better than I would every have dreamed! I accepted the feedback and while I embraced the failure, I also used it as motivation to make improvements. This is what embracing failure should look like – fail fast, learn from the mistakes, come back stronger and better!
But what is we stagnate in failure? Recently I have embraced failure and not changed. Being in a new country and trying to keep my business going has been very hard. Time and again, I have tried to reach out to potential new clients without success. Instead of trying new approaches or new products, I doubled down on what I was offering. And instead of pivoting or trying something different, I just stopped trying. My success in Canada lead me to believe that it was just a matter of time until someone here understood what I was doing and paid me what I wanted. The action of failing had become so normalized for me that I started to accept myself, and my business, as they were – failing. And I asked those around me to accept me, and my business, as we were. I started to tell people that perhaps learning from mistakes and growing wasn’t the only definition of successful failure. Could simply showing up be good enough?
There has been a change were we now tell people it is OK to not win, that showing up is good enough. And then when they don’t show up, we tell them that it is the thought or intention and not the actions they take that are important. We are not only normalizing failure, but we are making it socially acceptable to no longer need to push hard to succeed. We give children participation medals for simply joining the team, not necessarily playing or even winning! And this got me to thinking about obesity, which has become an epidemic in many western countries, and with a similar attitude prevailing, failure could be the next epidemic.
We have encouraged people who are not skinny to love themselves for themselves and be happy in the skin that they have, regardless of size. We provide participation medals in the form of extra-large clothing sizes, extra-large food portion sizes and a general super-sizing of most things (apart from airplane seats). It has become easier in westernized countries to be obese and it has also become increasingly difficult to have honest conversations without potentially “fat-shaming” someone or being “insensitive”. Being overweight has been normalized and has become socially acceptable.
I am acknowledging that obesity is complicated and people become obese for different reasons, many of them medical, but the normalizing of obesity and the socializing of positive body images has provided a perverse incentive for people to not act.
I have been called fat, and I try to love my body the way it is, regardless of my size (perceived or real). Sometimes I make the effort to work out and get in shape, but it is hard work and I believe that people shouldn’t judge me for the way I look. I have been called a failure, and I have tried harder to be successful, regardless of my failures (perceived or real). Sometimes I make the effort to work and get new business contacts, but it is hard work and I believe that people shouldn’t judge me when I am not successful.
I am falling into the obesity paradox when it comes to failure – people should accept me the way I am, even if the way I am isn’t healthy for me! And I am not alone. If we are not careful as a society failure will become socialized to the point where people accept failure as a normal part of life and not as a motivation to grow.
I cannot just accept myself for my body size or my failures, I must continue to push myself because like physical fitness, failure is not a constant. We must love ourselves enough to constantly want to improve and be better. I now work out three times a week and have an action plan for 2019 to help me grow, and my business grow. I love myself the way I am, but I can still be better.
Thank you to my friend K for her insights into the epidemic and the link between normalizing failure and normalizing obesity!