Dr. Samuel West is a Swedish psychologist whose research focuses on “innovation and what organizations can do to promote a climate of exploration and experimentation.”
In 2017, he founded the Museum of Failure, which showcases over one-hundred failed products and services from companies all over the world. Since then, his museum has gained notoriety, traveling across land and sea to cities throughout the globe — including Downtown LA, which is where I treated myself to a birthday gift and perused the collection for the first time.
As a forty-two-year-old entrepreneur, I was encouraged by the display. Maybe that sounds strange — to leave motivated by a museum showcasing failure — but I think that’s part of the point. It’s a testament to creativity. It’s a story about trying. These products and services were created by people and companies who refused to take no for an answer.
And sure, sometimes saying yes when the rest of the world is saying no results in failure, but — if the companies represented in the Museum of Failure are any proof — failure is rarely the end.
Apple products like the “Newton,” which was supposed to be a digital notepad that could also send faxes.
Heinz’s purple and green ketchup.
Coca-Cola’s coffee soda, “Blak.”
Colgate’s beef lasagna.
If anything, failure is an educator or a stepping stone.
Which brings me to a failure of my own…
I believe that I know how to be a good friend. I’ve never struggled to make friends, and the nature of my work throughout the years has allowed me to meet new people regularly. Whether that’s through a product, company or idea of my own creation that I used as an opportunity to collaborate with others, or mere luck that brings us together, I love joining other people’s journeys — especially those who I see potential in — and exploring what our futures might look like.
I also believe that I know how to deepen the friendships I have. I pursue people and help them develop and grow. A friend of mine, Tom Ramsey, did that for me when I was a teenager, and I know how unique a relationship ours was. Most people don’t have a mentor like Tom to help them through.
I know my wife didn’t.
The other night, Jeanette told me that she struggles to make friends. She doesn’t know how to put herself out into the world, or what she would do with herself if she tried.
She asked me how I did it.
I laid awake long after she fell asleep. I didn’t sleep at all that night, actually. It occurred to me, as a thought carried on the sound of her breathing, that in all of our years of marriage — and for all of the friendships she’s seen me build and maintain — never once had she asked me about how to make a friend.
The following day, through tears, I told Jeanette how painful that long night had been after having come to the realization that I have failed to impart something that I know how to do so well to my wife. How had none of it passed through me to her? How had the two of us not become one in this way?
I began to wonder at how powerful a thing it might be if we were able to walk in the strength and confidence of one another’s giftings, and not only our own.
And then I thought about our kids — 50% of both of us. It is no wonder that Nolan and Elise are so unafraid when it comes to gracing the stages they stand on. At the same time, it is no wonder they are so afraid of the unknown, and all of the rejection that threatens to meet each of us there.
This is, of course, not to say that Jeanette is only bringing fear to the half she contributes. It was merely a realization that — in light of the context — perhaps I see failure as less threatening, and am, therefore, less inclined not to try, or to believe that something can’t be done (or — at the very least — attempted).
Failure is an opportunity to learn, and here — glaringly in front of me — is mine.
I want to impart the yes in me.
I’ve spent a lot of life telling everyone what I’m against. I want to spend the rest of it telling everyone what I’m for.
I want Jeanette to know that yes, — despite every no in her head — she should risk the vulnerability it takes to pursue genuine friendships because it is worth being known (and also: yes, she is worth knowing).
I want my son, Nolan, to say yes, to his dreams of fronting a band despite every no the world gives him. Despite his friend’s mom telling him that, “It’s a nice hobby, son, but no, it can’t be done.” I’ve never been more excited to give him a yes instead. Pursue it. Make a career out of it.
I want to help him do it for him, but I also want to help him do it for her.
We need to quiet the voices that keep telling us, no. The critics who keep saying, “You can’t.” The elders whose ways are tired and worn out.
I want my daughter, Elise, to say yes to dreaming, to dancing, even in the face of the lies that tell her, “No, you’re not good enough, popular enough, fill-in-the-blank-enough,” because — damn it — she is enough.
Elise and I, specifically, have been talking quite a bit recently about what her “yes” would mean when it comes to her passion for dancing. We’ve connected more since I finally took an interest in better understanding her heart and her love for the craft. When we went to see Bon Iver’s performance with TU Dance in Washington D.C., one of the head choreographers there — Tony — told her that, “If you want to do this one day, you’re going to need to move beyond the competitive circuit, and into performance, itself.”
That day is coming. Elise is winning competitions now and can create a troupe of her own. I know because I can help her. We sat up for two hours that night, dreaming together about what and who would make the perfect dance group. She could build and launch it now, at thirteen years old, from her own home, and by the time she’s old enough to run a studio or lead a troupe, she’d have over ten years worth of experience under her belt, with every connection needed to make her dream come true…
And then, amongst the excitement, the fears start creeping in. “But dad, those kinds of opportunities only happen for famous people…”
How often do we dream without ever even trying to chase after our desires, quenched by insecurities that keep us from giving ourselves permission to start?
I did my best to silence every no with a yes.
To look past the fears that arose, and the what ifs?
To replace can’t with can try.
At the end of the day, I know that the best I can do is model the yes. I know how to argue, but ultimately, the freedom to try isn’t imparted through the winning of a debate about what’s possible, but through somehow receiving the courage to step into it.
The courage to risk it. In spite of the unknown. In spite of the fear.
In many ways, Craig Brain, itself, is the purest example of that risk, for me. Leaving my role at XXXchurch. Starting something new. It’s an awful lot more difficult at forty-three than it was at twenty-two, but it’s a part of me, and I don’t want to forfeit what’s next for fear.
It’s impossible — especially in our social-media-saturated culture, where everyone weighs in with an opinion on everything — to avoid critique. It contributes to the paralysis that’s already difficult enough to avoid when navigating personal relationships (let alone trying to save face before the entire world) and traps us into believing that we have to receive permission before we can move.
It’s okay to color outside of the lines. Not everyone needs to be on board. It’s okay to pursue something unconventional. It’s okay to invent. Maybe even to create something that ends up in the Museum of Failure, but at least you will have done it.
Yes might not be the equivalent of success, but you will never know unless you try.
In my mastermind groups, we have portions of our meetings together dedicated to what is called a Hot Seat. If you’re in it, then the rest of the group spends the session focusing on your particular questions, problem areas and/or issues you’re facing. The group provides insight and feedback, harnessing their wisdom and strength to help counter your weaknesses. During this time, the person in the hot seat is allowed to clarify anything the group deems necessary, but…
…he, or she is not allowed to say no.
One can only take the suggestions received and try.
I’ve got the try in me. I’ve got the yes where my family and friends keep hearing no, and I want us all to sing a new song together. Some of that means slowing down to a pace that others can match. Some of it means asking others to speed up.
A friend of mine recently told me, “Things just work out differently for you than they do for me, Craig.”
In truth, she wasn’t wrong, but I told her the secret:
You don’t stop at the first no.
You’re willing to challenge, patiently but persistently, and write a new story of your own (as opposed to merely playing a role in someone else’s).
I think, too, it means you’re willing to show up first.
And here again: first is scary.
First is riskiest.
It’s also the most rewarding.
First — even for a company like Apple — means that your “Newton” pad might end up in a failure museum because the technology isn’t yet up to par with the vision. But also, first meant a thousand songs in your pocket. First revolutionized not only computer technology, but it also changed what a “phone” is the way the entire music industry worked, and the world as a whole.
The combination of first and yes meant Elon Musk could persistently challenge the no when a team of MIT researchers told him that, actually, it is possible to both launch and successfully land a rocket.
Tony Hsieh did shoes-by-mail with Zappos when others told him it’d be impossible.
Hell, Donald Trump is the president of the United States. Let that one sink in.
Eighteen-hole courses are being replaced by Top Golf. Netflix outed Blockbuster. iTunes flipped the record industry entirely upside down. Amazon started as an online bookseller and has gone on to champion every other big box store in the world. Uber provided a better alternative to taxis. I’d even go so far as to say that Jesus did this same type of work in place of the religion that preceded him.
These people are disruptors. They don’t take no or can’t for an answer. At least, not a permanent one.
I tend to function as similarly, and I don’t plan on stopping now. XXXchurch was The #1 Christian Porn Site, and although I’ve always joked about how that’s easy when there’s not a number two, taking a risk on just the name of that ministry, let alone everything it entailed, was risky. It was scary. But I’m convinced the first-ness, and the twenty years’ worth of persisting despite every no! we receive, is also what has made it a successful and worthwhile endeavor.
I want to say no to no, and I want to encourage my friends and family and you to do the same.
Yes is for leaders and changemakers. It’s for rule-breakers more often than it is for rule-followers. It’s for people bored with the routine and the status quo. It’s for those of us who see a better way of doing things — sometimes, even when we’re not quite sure what that better way is…but also fully aware that we won’t unless we take a step toward it.
I am a dad, a husband, a business owner, a ministry leader, a friend, a [fill in the blank]. There’s always a role to fill, but whoever I am, I want to make sure that the people I come into contact with — my family, those I love and meet along the way — catch something of a yes from me. I hear my wife, daughter, son, friends tell me that they can’t…