I’ve had a lot of valuable advice over the years, mostly from my dad and mom, some from professors, others from seemingly faceless industry figures. But, as one of the newest members of AKHIA, the advice that now stands out to me the most wasn’t really advice at all.
It came from a wall and nearly 120,000 thumbtacks.
The tangibles seem odd, perhaps even superficial, but the message is as loud as it is clear: fail harder.
Legendary agency Wieden + Kennedy created a wall at its headquarters with the mantra “fail harder” outlined in 119,000 thumbtacks. When you really apply this to pitching new business, presenting work or even exploring new opportunities, it’s radical in nature. As written, the phrase means to amplify every failure, make it bigger, make it worse–and even possibly to seek out failure.
But, sometimes to make a point and make it memorable, you need to find the extreme. The mantra is about embracing failure as a natural part of the marketing agency life. It’s about presenting every idea as if it’s a multimillion dollar proposal; it’s about exploring every opportunity for every client even when they don’t ask for it; it’s about presenting ideas (internally or externally) without fear of being wrong or fear of failing.
A perfect example would be the client who only asks for a print coupon. No matter what, you’re going to create a killer coupon. Simply failing would be to pitch an additional digital campaign and say, “If you’re interested, we could create a proposal.” But, failing harder would be to actually create that campaign and present it instead of just an idea of the campaign.
Radical? Yes. Inspiring? Absolutely.
That’s why this is the best advice I’ve ever had in my life, especially when starting a new role. For younger people (like myself) it almost seems as if being new is the norm. With multiple internships, we’re all basically pros at being new. Which makes us pros at failing.
When you translate this to individuals on a day-to-day basis, failing harder carries an even stronger message. It means constantly finding opportunities beyond individual projects. It means not being afraid to believe in those opportunities. And, hardest of all, it means not being afraid to present those ideas (even if you have no experience with the client, medium or technology). There are too many great ideas never heard because individuals were too afraid to present an idea that probably wouldn’t make it. They’re too afraid to fail.
And, if you’re as fortunate as I am, your company not only welcomes … not only encourages … but finds time to make these ideas come to life. That is the very definition of failing harder. And I’m excited to see all the ideas come to life at AKHIA that no one asked for. But, I’m even more excited to see all the failures embraced and then turned into success stories.
Robert Doll is copywriter at AKHIA.