What to Do When a Project Fails
Episode #7 of the course How to unleash your creativity by Jurgen Wolff
In the last lesson, you discovered how to let your dreams guide your creativity. Unfortunately, not every project or idea is a success, but that doesn’t have to stop you, as you are about to find out in this lesson.
Temporary failure is a natural part of creativity. Most successful people in any field have a string of failures before they hit on the thing that brings them success. Even so, failure stops many people in their tracks. Here are four ways to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
Accept That It Feels Bad
Looking back on failure from a position of success makes you realize it wasn’t that bad, but when you’re in the middle of it, it can feel really awful! Allow yourself to experience your disappointment, anger, or whatever other emotions come up. In The Wellness Workbook, John W. Travis, MD, founder of The Wellness Resource Center, writes that “there is a heavy price to be paid when feelings are denied or repressed. Lethargy, boredom, and a sense of deadness of life may be the sorry consequence.” At the same time, remind yourself that unless you give up, most failures are just setbacks.
Take a Step Back with the Movie Screen Method
When you’ve gotten over your disappointment, it’s time to step back. Before you can figure out what went wrong, you have to be able to look at the situation objectively, without negative emotions that might cloud your vision. One easy way to do this is to picture the whole process as though you’re watching a film of the experience on a movie screen.
Let’s say your presentation fell flat. Imagine you were in the audience, and play back the presentation. Watch yourself on your imaginary movie screen. What do you notice about how the “you” up there performed? Maybe you’ll see that he never made eye contact with people in the audience or that she rushed through the words or mumbled.
Get Feedback from Others
It can be useful to get input from other people. Choose individuals who will be honest but constructive. Even when we do pretty well at being objective, there may be things we overlook that others notice. In the case of the presentation, you could ask a couple of people who were in the audience how you could improve. What would have made it more compelling or more interesting?
You can also ask people to evaluate a product that’s not successful. If your novel keeps getting rejected, get several people who are neutral (not your mother) to give you feedback. Ask them to be specific: Is there a particular point where they lose interest? Do they find your protagonist boring? Is any part of the story confusing?
You may get contradictory feedback, and you’re under no obligation to act on any of it. However, when you get the same comment from several people, that’s usually a good sign there’s a problem you need to address.
Correct the Faults
After taking those steps, you should have a good idea of what went wrong and why. That’s the time to go back to the drawing board. Think about how you can fix the problem or what you’ll do differently next time. Try out various solutions until you find the one that is most likely to succeed. For instance, visualize yourself doing the presentation differently, with better eye contact or using some props or visuals this time.
Once in a while, what you learn is that the project is fatally flawed and it would be better to move on to something else. As long as that decision is coming from the facts and not from your hurt feelings, it’s a perfectly valid option.
These four steps will help you get over any failures you encounter along the way. There’s also a way you can draw on your creativity to change any of your behaviors that are not serving you. That method is called, “Teach Your Bad Habit,” and you’ll find out all about it in the next lesson.
The Wellness Workbook, 3rd ed: How to Achieve Enduring Health and Vitality by John W. Travis, Regina Sara Ryan
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