How to successfully fail

She's one of the most successful dance exponents in the world and continues to earn royalties for over 130 works she has created. But, unlike the meteoric upward path of Mozart, one of her touchstone influences, she knows the dull thud of failure.

In 1966 in England one of her performances was met with the following review in the Evening Standard:

"Three girls, one of them named Twyla Tharp, appeared at the Albert Hall last evening and threatened to do the same again tonight."


In her book - The Creative Habit - Twyla Tharp, the renowned choreographer describes three dimensions of failure:

1. The failure of nerve

When you have everything going for you but the guts to support your idea and explore your concept fully. Do you worry about looking silly? "...looking foolish is good for you says Tharp (isn't that a great name?).

2. Failure through repetition
Do you keep doing what you've always done because 'it works'? Tharp says its a problem when you cling to past successes "We loose sight of the fact that we weren't searching for a formula when we first did something great; we were in unexplored territory, following our instincts and passions...It's only when we look back we see a path, and its only there because we blazed it."

3. Failure by denial.

"The same mechanism that protects you from your worst fears can blind you to reality. Denial becomes a liability when you see something is not working but refuse to deal with it. You tell yourself 'I'll fix it later' or you convince yourself that you can get away with it, that your audience won't notice the weak spots. This is bad denial. You won't get very far relying on yur audience's ignorance."

Tharp is careful not to trot out all of the old platitiudes about failure. She doesn't want to fail (who does), but at the same time she regards life as a great experiment. I like that. I teach students in my design research class at Massey University that point of research isn't to find the right answer but to produce two more questions for every one you begin with. Taking the science metaphor further, an idea is the same as an hypothesis. There is no guarantee of success, many experiments fail.

Think how dull life would be if they didn't.



The Creative Habit - Learn it and use it for life - by Twyla Tharp. Click to order

Find out more about The One & Only Twyla Tharp.

Visit her website

Wikipedia entry

Listen to a radio interview with Twyla Tharp (requires RealAudio Player)

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