Who dares wins, according to the British Special Air Service (SAS) motto. We dare to try,
dare to win. Another dare is contained in the motto of the Enlightenment, Sapere aude. Dare
to know. In creativity and innovation, a better motto might be Dare to Fail.
Failure is crucial in creative pursuits. Without failure, we simply replicate the thing we did
before. We play safe and don’t take risks.
In 2019 a group of researchers from Northwestern University in the United States published
the results of a decade-long study on success and failure. The researchers compared scientists
who narrowly missed out on getting grants to ‘statistically identical’ scientists who had only
just succeeded in getting grants. They then followed the careers of each scientist for ten
After narrowly missing out on a grant, ten percent of the ‘near miss’ group gave up their
research field and changed careers. But by the end of the decade, the ninety percent who
didn’t disappear had achieved more in the field – more awards, more publications, greater
recognition – than their peers who received the early grants.
It’s probable, the researchers concluded, that the near miss escalated drive and innovative
investigation. Something in that near miss, over a longish period, trained those scientists to
understand that some things would work, and some wouldn’t. Sometimes they would win the
grant, and other times, they’d have to find another way.
How liberating it is, to dare to know that today’s effort might not be rewarded. That next
week’s attempt might get some applause, or it might not. It’s the liberation of daring to try.
The liberation of daring to fail. Of daring to fall.
I’m thinking as I write this of the mountain biker Danny MacAskill, who creates thrilling
videos of his rides. His behind-the-scenes videos, though, are even more thrilling. Mostly
made up of tumbles and falls, these show the real effort, the real risk, in his success.
When I was a teenager I competed in roller dance – like ice-skating, complete with little
dresses and excessive make up. During lockdown I returned to quad-skating, with a great deal
of joy. But I will never be able to skate the way I did as a teenager because now, I am afraid
of injury. And in skating, in order to land a trick, you have to be willing to fall.
In fact, ‘Dare to Fail’ could be translated into Latin as Cadere aude, which literally means
‘dare to fall.’
Dare to fail today. If you have a project you’re working on, dare to write an ending for it. An
imperfect, messy ending. Or dare to write a beginning which might fall through the cracks,
which might lead nowhere.
Because in creativity success only comes through the possibility of failure. Today, in your writing prompt, dare to fail. Follow the wildest thought, the longest tack, the strangest non-sequitur. Cadere aude.
Write about an unexpected delivery