From the time our parents send us off to school, we’re being told not to fail. Whether it’s getting into an Ivy League school, landing a job not too long after graduation, entering into a marriage, raising a kid or excelling in our careers, we constantly feel the pressure to be the best or, at the very least, not mess up.
But such preciousness might be hindering us. In fact, some of the world's greatest innovators and thinkers — such as the late Apple visionary Steve Jobs and goddess-of-everythingOprah Winfrey — have extolled the values of failure, saying the best ideas often come from making mistakes.
“There are very few people in the world who come up with great ideas immediately and go and produce them,” says Jim Fitts, visiting professor of graphic design at Mount Ida College, in Newton, Mass. “I’m not sure anyone can do that.”
Yet Fitts noticed that his graphic design students did less of the, well, letting themselves come up with the bad ideas and outrageous experiments that are so important to creativity and innovation. Which is why he and fellow Mount Ida professor Alison Poor-Donahue organized an exhibition called “Permission to Fail,” which opens Oct. 19 at the school and runs through Jan. 26, 2016.
“It's so easy to jump on a laptop these days and start designing, so a lot of younger designers have foregone that old process of blue-sky thinking, doing sketches, doing thumbnails and working through a couple of different concepts before they start to do the final product,” Fitts says.
The curators reached out to 50 designers, illustrators and photographers around the world, and 30 have loaned their preliminary notebooks, sketches and photographs, showing the many iterations and detours it takes to come up with something truly great.
Among the biggest participants in the show: Milton Glaser, who created such iconic images as the I Heart NY logo, the famed psychedelic Bob Dylan poster and that groovy, kaleidoscopic last-season “Mad Men” poster. (Fitts says Glaser was the first person to send over his work for the show — that's how vital he thinks the experimentation process is.)
Yet, failure isn’t just good for art: It makes all of us sharper thinkers and more agile problem-solvers. And it gives us the ability to actually do stuff, as opposed to letting our fears paralyze us. “Even Leonardo da Vinci didn't just make his masterpieces — he started out doodling and drawing and working through a lot of different concepts and again,” says Fitts. “And that’s inspiring to anyone.”