Fail Quickly, Creatively and Right Now

Jul 23, 2019 | Culture

The fear of short-term failure often cripples individuals and organizations from pursuing creative endeavours that could lead to long-term success.

I think it is safe to say that most organizations and their employees value creativity. Yet, seeing is believing. Many individuals and organizations avoid actually engaging in creative behaviour, often in fear of the consequences of failure. Ironically, the only way to improve one’s creative abilities is to pursue creative endeavours that could potentially fail, but doing so as soon as possible and learning quickly.

When I was selected to join the International Business academic team at Wilfrid Laurier University in preparation for the annual Jeux du Commerce Central competition, I was really excited. For several months in advance of the competition, my team conducted a case analysis and resolution every week in order to prepare for the big competition. Despite performing several case analyses before, these were a bit different. Several constraints existed that made creating a clear and meaningful presentation difficult: there were only three individuals on each team, we only had three hours and one computer – without access to the internet – to complete our task. The worst part? We had little to no knowledge about what each case would be about.

As someone who values outside-the-box thinking, I truly believed that these constraints and ambiguity would allow me to develop a stronger creative mindset. However, at least at the beginning, things did not go quite according to plan. The first few cases made me feel overwhelmed, out of place, and quite frankly, a bit dumb. I was so focused on trying to come up with any solution, that my sense of creativity was thrown completely out the window.

Instead of feeling intimidated by these shortcomings, I chose to face them head-on. The only way to improve one’s creativity is to purposefully engage in creative behaviour. Week after week, I continued to fail during these cases, but every week I failed by less and less. When the time came for the actual competition, my team excelled; all the hard work truly paid off.

Constantly push yourself and your employees into unchartered territory. Understand that it is okay to fail – but do so fast and reflect on key learnings. Also, start failing now, before the consequences of failure amplify. Lastly, engrain acting creatively into your organization’s culture, not just valuing and believing in it. Do this by rewarding any creative action, whether it leads to success or failure, and punishing inaction. Ensure employees are empowered to pursue new ideas to avoid falling behind the competition or failing to seize an opportunity to get ahead.

You can’t simply just value and believe in creativity – you have to explicitly and purposefully engage in creative behaviour. There is often dissonance between one’s values, beliefs and behaviours. Recognizing this, and actively pursuing opportunities to engage in creative behaviour will close this gap, and give your organization and its employees a competitive advantage.

Planning can only get you so far, therefore try implementing that new and creative marketing tactic, new hiring process, new product line, etc. – but do it right now, and learn.

By: Patrick Gleason


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