“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” — Confucius
Woody Allen is one of the best filmmakers of all time. He’s created some of the most iconic scenes and characters in cinema. On Rotten Tomatoes his highest rated film is Broadway Danny Rose and Zelig, both at 100%.
But he’s also made some terrible films. His lowest rating on RT is for the awful Scoop. But he’s actually got a whole bunch hovering in the 40% range.
Sure, some of his movies stink. Yet he’s not thought of as the guy who made a bunch of turkeys; he’s celebrated as the mind behind Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and many other great movies. He’s got some big hits. And his misses don’t change that.
Speaking of misses, baseball hall-of-famer Reggie Jackson, who was nicknamed ‘Mr. October’ for his clutch post-season performances, is also #1 on the list of all-time most strikeouts. Because, just like Allen, Jackson knew that if you want to hit a few home runs, you’re going to have to be prepared to strikeout.
Ups and downs
These are just two examples of leaders in their field who’ve also done some not-so-good stuff. But it’s quite common; in fact it happens all the time: people who achieve greatness also, occasionally, make garbage.
That’s not a coincidence.
Because not only does making something bad not discredit the good stuff you do, making stuff that sucks (striking out if you will) is actually a necessary part of making brilliant stuff.
There are a few reasons for this.
Why you want to fail
Practice — If you want to be a leader, you’ve got to try new things. Sometimes, that leads to an artistic, academic or athletic triumph. Other times, you end up, like The Beatles did, with Revolution 9. (Sure, it’s interesting, you could call it brave, but you can’t call it a good song). But those aural experiments probably found better expression in other later works. You’re getting practice, maybe even finding an imperfect expression of a good idea. Albert Einstein got some things wrong, Stephen King has written a few iffy books, and the Beatles wrote O-Bla-Di Bla-Da. Lay that groundwork!
Percentages — If you’re cranking out work, it’s more likely that some of it won’t be good. But it’s also more likely that some of it will be good. As you learn and experiment, you grow. As you grow, you improve and mature. And your work will become more accomplished. Along the way, you may make some mistakes. That’s fine: you don’t get the hits without the misses.
Freedom — If you follow the muse religiously, you will find yourself hitting uncharted territory, and doing things people aren’t used to. The Beach Boys forewent their radio-friendly sunny sound for their 11th album, the decidedly experimental Pet Sounds. Initially panned by critics, today it’s recognized as one of the most influential albums of all time. All because they decided to roll with their inspiration, rather than do what was expected of them.
Forego the paralysis
The learnings from writing crap songs, publishing mediocre books, striking out, are valuable. No doubt when great artists and players have that “ugh’ feeling, they just pick themselves up, think about what went wrong, and fold those insights into their next work.
Plus, if you’re trying to make everything you do perfect, you can end up in an artistic paralysis. But give yourself the space to fail, and you’ve got all the freedom you need to dream big. As an artist and creative, you want to be doing your best, but not at the expense of doing.
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” — Ken Robinson
If you keep waiting until you’re sure the thing is flawless, you’ll never get it completed. As Voltaire said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. Which means don’t let that desire to obsessively perfect your work get in the way of making something.
It worked for Einstein, The Beatles, Stephen King, Reggie Jackson and Woody Allen, and The Beach Boys, among others; it’ll probably work for you too.