“We’re talking about the fear of fucking up,” implored Vicki Maguire alongside partner and Co-Chief Creative Officer at Grey London, Caroline Pay during their panel at AdWeek Europe this past Tuesday, Why Fuckups are Fundamental for Creative Futures.
Appealing to and identifying with the audience’s younger creatives, Maguire illustrated an anecdote adland’s up and coming generation of millennials are all too familiar with—that of the young graduate, fresh out of university who has moved back in with his parents to save money on London’s impossibly steep rent and will be spending the next few years doing grunt work which can be, more or less, summed up as trying not to mess up the bosses’ coffee order and tiptoeing around the office as if on eggshells—an environment hardly conducive to creativity.
Expanding upon this, Maguire spoke about the young creatives entering the advertising industry today: “They are so eager to make you happy—to not fail—that they are doing just the opposite.” Why is this the case? Because, it is not about how much you do right, it is simply about how much you do because the more you do, the better you get at it. You have to fail in order to learn to succeed and access your best ideas.
As illustrated by Maguire and Pay, this fear of failure is detrimental. Whereas in the sciences failure is characterized as trial and error—essentially, learning—advertising is not nearly as forgiving. The creative pair feel this is a fundamental error and damaging to the potential that young creatives have, because, if they are always afraid of failing it becomes hard to go all in and try new things.
To drive home this message, Pay and Maguire gave audiences their top ten ways to make failure glorious:
Remember no one will die (hopefully): Creatives must come into advertising being passionate about it and believing it has the potential to change the world but, must recognize, that at the end of the day, it’s still just advertising, “don’t take it too seriously because none is going to die.”
Don’t have a plan B: “If you have nothing to fall back, you’re more likely to go f**k it and go for it all guns blazing. You are either going to be gloriously successful or you are going to have an epic fail, but either way you won’t be in the same place you started and that is a good thing.”
Thank the people who failed you: “On your journey, people will fail you. I’ve learned more from the arseholes I’ve worked with than from the people I hold in high esteem.” These people teach you what not to do.
“One-downmanship” is better than one-upmanship: Now, more than ever, it’s hard to be absolutely successful in this industry, sometimes it’s better to sit your friend or creative partner down and engage in one-downmanship and say, “you think that meeting was rubbish, wait until you hear what I just did in the room.”
Have a fuck off fund: Have three months’ rent and bills put away so that you can resign or start over whenever you want to do so. This way, you will never be stuck and can always walk away from something that is not for you.
Hire failures: At Grey, Pay and Maguire are more interested in how someone has f**ked up and bounced back than absolute successes all the time. “There is nothing more interesting or valuable than working with someone who has something to prove.”
Exercise your failure muscles: “Learn to bounce back. The more you do it, the more you fail, the more you f**k up, the better you get at it.
Fuck Imposter Syndrome: “You’re paid well to have an opinion, you’re paid well for your skills and your experience. You deserve a seat at the table, you earned a seat at the table
Fail Out Loud: “Especially the higher up you get, regardless of your title, you don’t know all the answers.” There are people in the room with you who may be younger or more inexperienced but still have an answer or opinion. “Nobody has all the answers and as soon as you admit that and as soon as you let that ego-insecurity go, then the better off you’ll be. Admit you’re wrong; change your mind; debate; argue; admit defeat; be open when you fail.”
Fail Together: You will have disasters but these are not experienced alone, they are experienced with your team. “You have difficult projects; you have difficult clients; sometimes you get Turkey of the Year, at that point the most important thing is that you’re in it with the other people on your team.”
For Pay and Maguire, there is not really a fail that cannot be celebrated because every failure is really just a lesson learned. And the more you fail, “the more power failure loses and the more power you get back.”