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There is no failure

Habits, Failure, and the Creative Process–How IDEO, the World’s Premier Design Firm, Succeeds by Expecting Failure

04/13/2012

in Make Money, Productivity

[Note: Much of the research that I cite in this article comes from the Heath brothers’ excellent, highly recommended book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard]

Failure is not failing. Failure is a part of the learning process.

I received an email today that made me think deeply about failure, especially with regard to habits and habit change. Failure, to many, is an end-all. Either you succeed, or you fail. Either you exercise 6 times a week, or you don’t. Either/or, success/failure.

But that’s not how success works.

Here is the email I received:

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The stuff you do isn’t that impressive to me. I have no problem going up to pretty girls and talking with them. I can find great deals and I can network with people.

What I don’t have is an income that I can live off of. I eat healthy half the time but unhealthy the other half. I made good progress towards my goals for the GRE at first but now I’m helping my sister develop a business, work on a business for myself, and working on learning spanish. I’m not making progress on studying for the GRE now.

Also, I’ve gotten so caught up in an exercise plan at the gym and trying to figure out how I will afford a gym membership that I have stopped making myself workout even that small 3 minutes a day you had me start.

I feel like a failure.

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This reader feels like a failure because he isn’t achieving the (way too numerous) goals he is setting at the same time. He believes that, because he can’t succeed in becoming perfect in all of his goals at one time, he is a failure.

His problem isn’t in failing. It’s in his mindset. And here’s the good news: mindset is changeable, and by changing his mindset, he’ll be able to ratchet up his success faster than he ever thought possible.

Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford, has spent her life studying the two learning mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their capabilities are predetermined and unlikely to change—their intelligence and capabilities are dealt at birth, and they are stuck with it. People with a growth mindset believe that, given enough effort and work, they can change. They believe that any skill is learnable, given enough time and effort.

Dweck’s research is very clear—in order to achieve success, in order to achieve your full potential, you have to adopt a growth mindset.

What are some common traits of people who follow a growth mindset? They value effort, not skill. In one famous experiment, Dweck and her team traveled to New York City classrooms, giving puzzles to two sets of fifth graders. The kids tended to do very well on these (easy) puzzles, and were praised afterwards. The two groups were given identical exams, but were praised differently: one group was told “You must be really smart at this” while the other group was told “You must have worked really hard.”

A small change, right? Just a single line of praise.

Shortly after, the same students were asked to do another set of puzzles, and given the option of choosing to take a set of easy puzzles or difficult ones. The difference between the simple line of praise had a huge effect: over 90% of the students that were praised for effort opted to take the more difficult test, while the majority of students praised for intelligence chose to take the easy exams.

That’s right. A simple line of praise for intelligence (rather than effort) made students extremely likely to take the easy way out.

Now, let’s take a look at failure. For some, failure is an all-or-nothing game. When some people set a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym, and miss a couple days, they see it as a failure. This is part of the fixed-mindset mind: either you succeed, or you fail.

Those with the growth mindset, however, see a failure as a chance to succeed. They know that all new habits will have ups and downs–be it a new diet, exercise, flossing, or anything else. The goal is to get back on the horse and try again.

Successful learners understand this, and they build the expectation of failure into their plan.

Enter IDEO.

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IDEO is one of the most famous and influential design firms in the world. Their products include the first ever Apple Mouse. They know the creative process better than anyone else in the world.

With so many successful products, you would expect their design process to be airtight, right? Wrong. Their method of creation is designed specifically to account for failure. An expectation of failure built right into their design process!

One of IDEO’s designers created a project mood chart, to model how a team will feel about the design of a project from beginning to finish. At the beginning of a new project, the team is filled with hope—and thus, their enthusiasm is high. At the end of the project, when it is close to completion, the team is confident—and the enthusiasm level is high. But between these two points is a dip, a valley of low enthusiasm labeled “insight.”

At the beginning of any project–be it a creative project, or the creation of a new habit–there is a lot of hope and enthusiasm. Between the beginning and the successful conclusion, however, there will be periods where the project feels doomed to failure, where you have to fight through and keep tweaking until you can reach that successful “confidence” peak. And it is at this stage where fixed mindset learners fail and growth mindset learners prevail.

“] [source: http://leadchangegroup.com/hope-is-a-strategy/With IDEO’s chart, they are building the expectation of failure. Both the team and their clients understand that, in the middle of a project, success seems distant and unlikely. But, by creating this graphic, by visualising it, they are showing the team and their clients that this is a normal part of the creative process. You have to fail before you can succeed.

Failure is not failure. Failure is part of the change process. You must fail before you can succeed. The correct term is actually learning, not failing.

Failure as Fodder for Habit Change

Take a moment and reflect on the growth vs. fixed mindset. When was the last time you tried to institute a new habit? Did you try to go on a diet? Did you try to start exercising? Perhaps begin meditation, or stop feeling emotional, or something else?

For me, I’m currently trying to follow the Paleo Diet, a diet based on basically meat and vegetables and no carbs. I’ve tried dozens of times in the last two years to cut carbs out of my diet, without lasting success. I often go a week or two eating perfectly, and then give into temptation on a single day, and then keep eating poorly and forget about the diet.

However, each time, it’s gotten a little better. I’ve made an effort to try and get back on the diet faster. Whereas, last year I cheated for 6 months (ugh), this year, my cheating periods have gradually gotten smaller—from two weeks to two days to, most recently, two meals.

It’s a learning process. I know that making the switch to Paleo won’t be a smooth process. But what I can do is try to improve each time. Each time that I eat Paleo, I am building the habit. I understand that perfection is impossible, and I will cheat at times. I expect to fail—and I’ve already created a plan to get back on the horse when that failure happens. It works like this.

Eat Paleo meal for breakfast.
Eat Paleo meal for lunch.
Eat Paleo meal for dinner.

If I cheat at any time, and notice it, STOP EATING IMMEDIATELY.
If I cheat and don’t realize I’m cheating until after the meal, fast for the next meal—and eat a proper Paleo meal thereafter.

A simple reaction plan has helped me continue to get back on the horse when I start to fail.

Your Turn: Can You Build a Habit Through Failure?

Now, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be talking a lot about habits. Habits are the basis of who you are. 90% of what you do is automatic, so if you create successful habits, you will become successful. So let’s start now.

You answered above the most recent habit you’ve tried to institute.

I want to help you achieve your goals. What are the habits you find most important to you? What do you think is the highest leverage habit that you could institute in your life.

Tell me in the comments what that habit is, and what you’ve done to try and achieve it. Have you met with success or failure? What has held you back from success?

I’ll give you individualized feedback on each success and failure. I want to help you reach your potential. All you have to do is let me know in the comments:

1) What habit you want to develop
2) What was the result last time you tried to do it
3) What held you back?

Let me know below. Let’s change your life—one habit at a time.

{ 19 comments… }

Vicky July 20, 2013 at 1:40 am

My biggest habit that I want to change that I believe is the pinnacle to my success is getting 8 hours of sleep each night. I’ve tried Stickk commitments etc and it’s still not working. Please help!

Reply

Ozan July 19, 2013 at 10:00 am

Hey Man!

Your blog is so cool, I’d really like to meet you one day in real life.

So here it is:

1) 1 hour of bicycle every morning.
2) This morning, I didn’t do it.
3) I just felt too tired already.

Reply

Nathalie Villeneuve March 1, 2013 at 6:56 am

1) What habit you want to develop
I am trying to stop multitasking
2) What was the result last time you tried to do it
I was not able to focus long enough to give my attention to one task for more then half a day
3) What held you back?
I seem to have in my mind that spending the time on one taks without adressing others important tasks makes me un productive. I seems to believe that accomplishing more is better…the weird thing is that I KNOW it’s not true.

Reply

Deen November 8, 2012 at 10:51 pm

1) What habit you want to develop – I want to develop the habit of waking up on my terms when I want to, and to start my day ding something of my choosing. As opposed to waking up 1 minute before my first meeting i.e. waking up when I ‘have to’ . I want to move away from being the type of person who only takes action when the negative consequences of not doing action becomes too great. Urgent. I want to develop the habit of doing things before they are ‘due’.

2) What was the result last time you tried to do it – the result last time I tried this was, I never even had 1 day like this. Well no, I take that back it was about 2005 that I would wake up early and study subjects, take an afternoon nap then do freelance work in the evening. that all stopped when I got a job.

3) What held you back? I suppose I made excuses to myself about the job requiring me to be well rested and justified getting more sleep. I probably didnt like doing what I was doing thats why it was so easy to make up an excuse for sleeping in and going into the office at 10am. What held me back was the internal excuses.

Thanks

Reply

Bryan April 24, 2012 at 11:26 am

As far as Paleo goes, I started at 17-18 and am 24 now. I notice changes in my body (especially acne related) so quickly that the negatives to me are more real than the positives in the cheat food. That means that I am emotionally anchored to see a cheat food and think negatively about it, bringing all the related problems about it into my consciousness rather than just the short term and fleeting taste that incites people to cheat.

My habit is that I want to start a daily morning routine. I’ve done it before, but moving, going out super late, or other things that screwed up one day put me off track each time. I think I’m going to design a routine that is more flexible on time, and also allows me to spend some time with my girlfriend each morning, before I actually begin the productive stuff. It should start when I leave the bedroom rather than as soon as I get up, and doesn’t need to start at a fixed time.

Reply

Bradley April 19, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Fabulous post, Maneesh.

My habit
1) Going to bed before midnight (getting good sleep).
2) I started very small, by going to sleep five minutes earlier each night, but I stopped after several days.
3) My plan to achieve my habit — by going to sleep five minutes earlier each night — is insufficient. The main problem is that the habit has no anchor.

Reply

Sergio Felix April 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Hey Maneesh,

Well for me it would be rising up earlier and be more productive in the mornings.

To address this I started taking cold showers first thing in the morning (I absolutely HATE them) but I have been feeling a lot more energized, more eager to do stuff and more focused.

So even though I still hate cold showers, I’m actually benefiting a lot from them so I’m doing that for now.

Next, I’d like to get back to running again, gain some health back and stop eating junk food.

And business wise, I’d love to be able to complete an information product. My problem is with perfectionism and I have no idea on how to solve this.

Sergio

Reply

maneesh April 17, 2012 at 6:00 pm

so, health wise, what can you do to specifically address your goals of stopping junk food and starting to run? Maybe, set a specific plan, throw away all junk food, and tell your friends to charge you if you eat junk food?

Reply

JW April 16, 2012 at 11:48 am

1. Habit
I have been fairly successful in building two habits over the year (about 8 and 4 months respectively): using the interval between my sons’ bedtimes to Write a short entry in Japanese on Lang-8, and initiate a diet/exercise regimen for weight loss and (more recently) strength building. The next habit I’d like to develop is visualization, and I’ve started brainstorming what I intend to achieve, and how to do it.
2. Result
I had a dead spell with the Japanese as my job became rather absurdly demanding this spring, but I’m through the worst of it and getting back on track. I wrote two new entries last week, and plan to have at least four this week.
The diet/exercise routine has been surprisingly effective, although I am beginning to lose momentum on the weight loss (after twenty pounds), and I’m not sure exactly where I want to go from here. I’d like to maintain a weight of 165 or less and build strength in order to stay leaner, but I’m still working out how to make the transition from here to there.
3. Stumbling Blocks
In the Japanese study, the biggest obstacle has been the demands of my job, however, these should decrease dramatically I’m the next year or so, and I plan to move forward in studying for the JLPT level 5. As regards the diet/exercise, I have been surprised how well I’ve managed to stay on track in the last four months, but I worry about the next year. I’ve been thinking increasingly about redirecting my success into new goals, rather then a sort of maintenance “holding pattern.” I fear a slow erosion otherwise.

Reply

Ilhan April 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Hey Maneesh,
great post, just what I needed right now!

1.) praying (I am Sunni Muslim, but never got into the habbit of regularly praying)
2.) I could manage my time on my own during exam period, so I had three sets of prayers, morning prayer in the morning when I woke up, midday prayer at noon, and the other three prayers at night when I was done
3.) I started working and going to classes after exam period an don’t have time for prayer in the morning and at noon, and at night I am too tired most of the time

Reply

Ian K April 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm

1) What habit you want to develop
Be excellently productive most of my time.

2) What was the result last time you tried to do it
I ended up going out a night and I lost control when I woke up. I simply wasn’t thinking and played games. That lasted for a week and now I am back in the game more or less.

3) What held you back?
My environment that has tv and console games. My change of routine which unbalanced me. I would say that the people in my close environment are not the most helpful either.

4)What are you doing now to change the situation?
I gave my consoles to my parents for them to do as they wish and the tv too. I set up an internet filter that I can’t control due to the mofo long password I don’t know and gave to my mom. Writing this. Signed up for tiny habits.

It’s ridiculous, I know.

Reply

Xavier Thompson April 14, 2012 at 7:59 am

1) what habit would you like to form?
Every day I have so much going on that it’s be Oming difficult to buffer and maintain a mental record of all I have on my plate.
2) what was the result the last time you tried to execute?
Illill preface this with what I did; I began making a to do list every day. I’d perform the most important tasks first and move on. The rub lies in my sleeping habits. My habit prevents me from resting and recouperating from the days past, thus hindering the efficacy level of my cognate ability. Focus is low along with energy. This pretty much takes care of #3. Any suggestions James?

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Jamie April 13, 2012 at 7:08 pm

I have wanted 6-pack abs for ages. But everybody tells you something different about how to achieve them. I don’t have any problems with follow through, just not enough knowledge. My breakthrough came when I announced “6 pack abs” as my New Year’s Resolution . . . yet again. And my suitemate called me out saying, “You’ve been saying that for years!” Wow. I felt disgusting. Because it was true. I consider myself to be a person of my word yet for years I was being inauthentic saying I would achieve a certain goal yet never doing it! But thanks to you and your recommendations, I’m doing Paleo and performing exercises similar to Hollywood Physique to achieve my fitness goals.

I’ve also wanted for a long time to start a business. I’ve blown so much money on stuff I thought would get me rich quick. It wasn’t until I found your brother’s program, “Earn 1k” that I actually got plugged into a program that paid for itself. I’ve made $309 so far in 2 weeks and I’m on track to making around $1600 a month now. I just need to keep developing my business and reaching out to potential customers instead of trying to be passive, just posting Craigslist ads here and there.

If I ever find myself giving up, or saying that I don’t have enough time or energy to follow through, I have to pay a personal coach or trainer to tell me what to do and treat me like a kid. I hate this and wasting money, so I almost always follow through on my goals in order to avoid it.

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Rachel April 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm

My answers:
1) What habit you want to develop
Get up the same time every morning, so I can have a predictable start to my schedule, and am able to complete my morning routine in good time to get to work for a regular start time. (i.e. having time to exercise + shower + eat a solid breakfast)
2) What was the result last time you tried to do it
Slipped up this morning, because I did something different with friends last night and got to bed way too late (about 2h later than normal). Have been around 60% successful for the last 3weeks. (Best week was when my friend met me at the gym while she was on spring break, meaning I had to turn up on time every day!)
3) What held you back?
I believe due to long term health issues that getting enough sleep is more important than a consistent schedule. When it comes down to the crunch of making that choice, I opt for enough sleep. (Health issues: a decade of chronic daily pain, recently resolved ~80% by discovering I’m gluten-intolerant, and being 100% gluten free for almost 8months now.) Occasionally I try to switch it up and go for consistency instead, but I pay a price physically by being knocked-off in energy levels, or in having pain again.

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James H. April 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm

1) What habit you want to develop

Put in a half hour of focused mail processing time every day, which usually consists of emptying the inbox.

2) What was the result last time you tried to do it

This is my first time approaching the inbox-zero problem in the form of a habit.

3) What held you back?

A huge list of unread mail back-log. I still have over a thousand messages in an old mailbox, for which the weight of the total task size proved too daunting to tackle, requiring that I start fresh.

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Chloe April 13, 2012 at 10:52 am

I highly recommend The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Most effective book I’ve read about habit change, which helped me shorten my morning routine: http://www.chloefan.com/2012/03/how-i-cut-my-morning-routine-time-in-half/

I am currently trying to figure out how to get back into the gym or at least have an effective workout time at home. Tons of assumptions behind this, and “motivation techniques” do nothing because they don’t leverage my habits. I know what I need to change, but I can’t change it, maybe because I’m analyzing it too much? e.g., I know if I make a right after I leave my house, I will walk 1.5 miles to school, but habit always makes me go left, so I end up taking the bus instead.

Overthinking and deeply ingrained habits are preventing me from turning fun, efficient exercise into a habit. I’m also moving out of state in a month, which means I’ll have more opportunities to create new habits that involve exercise.

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Anouar April 13, 2012 at 10:29 am

1) What habit you want to develop
Micro-testing business (muse) ideas.
2) What was the result last time you tried to do it
A few months ago I tested one idea.
3) What held you back?
The test failed, and I did’n perform a new test since.
Not easy to point a finger to exactly what is keeping me from doing it.
I keep finding other stuff to do.

Reply

Rachel April 13, 2012 at 10:27 am

1) What habit you want to develop
Get up the same time every morning, so I can have a predictable start to my schedule, and am able to complete my morning routine in good time to get to work for a regular start time. (i.e. having time to exercise + shower + eat a solid breakfast)
2) What was the result last time you tried to do it
Slipped up this morning, because I did something different with friends last night and got to bed way too late (about 2h later than normal). Have been around 60% successful for the last 3weeks. (Best week was when my friend met me at the gym while she was on spring break, meaning I had to turn up on time every day!)
3) What held you back?
I believe due to long term health issues that getting enough sleep is more important than a consistent schedule. When it comes down to the crunch of making that choice, I opt for enough sleep. (Health issues: a decade of chronic daily pain, recently resolved ~80% by discovering I’m gluten-intolerant, and being 100% gluten free for almost 8months now.) Occasionally I try to switch it up and go for consistency instead, but I pay a price physically by being knocked-off in energy levels, or in having pain again.

Reply

James April 13, 2012 at 8:59 am

1) I want to develop the habit of working more effectively, of focussing on one work task at a time, rather than doing a little bit of one task, a little bit of another task and so forth.
2) I achieve this successfully usually when I am on a plane without an internet connection or distractions of phone calls or email. Some of my tasks require an internet connection but I’ve found myself drifting off to check football scores, the news, twitter….or again, bouncing between tasks.
3) Not enough self-discipline. A scatterbrain, easily-influenced mind.

Reply

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