Pixar’s secret to long-term success may be in the way they embrace short-term failure.
When Pixar story-artist and animator Matthew Luhn was trying to come up with the story for Monsters University, he came up with idea after idea and drawing after drawing—only to throw them all out. Months passed, the bad ideas kept piling up, and he seemed no closer to a solution than when he started. However, Luhn did not give up, nor did he despair. After working for Pixar for years, he understood that failure was an essential part of the process to finding good solutions.
If you want your company to be truly creative, you have to stop fearing failure and start embracing it. You may think of Pixar always a success, but the truth is Pixar was on the verge of failure many times before finding success with Toy Story.
In the long journey before its success, Pixar’s team learned one of the most important lessons in creativity was not to succeed but to fail. And to fail often. You see this in their everyday approach to work, their storytelling, and the heroes of their animated films.
In his talk, “Inspiring Creativity in the Workplace,” Luhn outlined the five reasons why you should make failure part of your process.
1. Failure is necessary
If you want your company to be truly creative, you need to change your attitude from fearing failure to embracing it. Luhn explained, “Failing is necessary if you want to have a truly creative company.” See failure as a beginning of a solution, not an end.
2. Failure eliminates bad ideas
See the benefits of failure. Failure is the best way “to eliminate the bad ideas as quickly as possible,” said Luhn. Because when the bad ideas are gone, only the good ideas remain.
3. Failure inspires more ideas
Not only does failure eliminate bad ideas, but it is the best way to inspire more good ideas. Luhn explained, “Every time I do a new drawing I’m not thinking to myself, ‘Oh my god, such a waste of time! I might as well just draw it and throw it directly in the garbage to save time.’ No. I’m thinking it may inspire a new idea somewhere down the road.”
4. Failure helps you try out ideas more quickly
Stop spending all your time trying to make a bad idea good. According to Luhn, we spend too much time trying to make every idea beautiful and not enough time trying out as many ideas as possible. Instead, experiment with lots of ideas in draft form. Only make the idea pretty and detailed when you know it is good.
5. Failure pushes boundaries
Most companies play it safe. “Companies will consciously or subconsciously always avoid risk,” said Luhn. Instead, Luhn explained, you need to be “constantly pushing yourself to do things that are original and keep innovating even if it means you fail. Even if it means it may hurt the brand. Even if it means you’re not going to make the money you want on it. You want to keep pushing yourself.”