Failure was the theme of the IgniteNYC event last night at the Tishman Auditorium at the Parsons The New School, and 14 speakers each told a story about how they failed but then rose out of the flames. Surprisingly, this topic turned out to be poignant, inspirational, sad — and extremely funny. It was a platform for speakers who had experienced failure and were not afraid to share it with anyone – and that they did.
David Carroll, associate professor of media design and director of design and technology at The New School talked about how the school is trying to incorporate the idea that ‘failure isn’t awful’ into the pedagogy. “We are undoing that failure is bad, but that it’s important to learn from. We acknowledge that education is responsible for stigmatizing failure. The business and startup community really valorizes failure, but in academia it’s taking some time, and we’re in the process of reconciling success and failure. If you can learn from failure, then that’s a success.”
Ryan MacCarrigan, one of the organizers of the event, works at leanstartupmachine, whose tagline is Fail Fast, Succeed Faster. “You come into it high hopes, gun ho expectations, and you realize ‘this is not for me, what do I do?’ It’s okay to be in those situations in life. We need to have moments of failure so that we can really learn and internalize what happened and move forward.”
All the panelists had equally poignant stories, but they laughed about their failures and obviously learned from the experience and moved on. Kyle Studstill, partner at Three Kings, said that he wanted to make things interesting, and that telling stories was a good way of doing that. “We have this culture of ‘failure is cool’ now. Over the past couple of decades, we have this compulsion to say ‘we fail faster’ and the like. One of the reasons this exists is because we live in this age of transparency, where we can talk about things we’re doing, not as failures as such, but we can tell a story about them. We can say ‘hey this made my life or product more interesting.’ We want to build something that expresses our ideas. Use the failure as a fact that you actually did something as a way to get value out of that thing you did, even if it didn’t succeed.
Kim Boekbinder has reinvented how tours are booked by selling the shows before booking the venues. She did this through crowdfunding. She came up with the idea when she had a bad tour. The venue had a capacity of 200 to 300 people, and there were only 18 people in the room. “I lost a lot of money, and it’s pretty sad to play to an empty room. I went and bought myself a couple of shots of whisky and thought about how I could change my life.” Therefore, she set up a show in NY using Kickstarter. She had a date – but no venue. She told people online that she needed $1,000 to make it happen, and the show was funded immediately.
Kyra Gaunt-Palmer, professor at Baruch College and a TED fellow, does collaborative curating online and collects money through Twitter and Facebook. Her students collaborate with people around the world. They wrote an e-book on racism called Could You Be The Bigger Nigger, with middle and last word crossed out, and 4,000 people downloaded it. However, her failure story was about how last year she got married to someone she met on Facebook, and it didn’t work out. The lesson she learned from that year was about radical openness online, “If you’re going to take a big risk, you really need to plan – you can’t just follow your heart.”
MacCarrigan added, “One of the recurring themes is that if you fail, you can pivot your way towards success. You can learn from failure and achieve a successful outcome. If you’re having success after success, you probably aren’t learning anything valuable.”