Normalizing Fuckups: How to Get Past That Fear of Failure

In agency life, talking about it is step one

In my (admittedly tiny) brain, it was hard to imagine the ad industry becoming even more fast-paced than it already was a few years ago. But in the past couple of years, that has somehow happened. Better/faster/cheaper/even faster continues to rule the day. 

Moving as fast as we do has consequences, as we all know. And when mistakes are inevitably made, the idea of having a postmortem, deeper discussion or teachable moment to discuss? Well, usually, there just isn't time for that. Because we need THE NEW THING DONE and we need the new thing done NOW. Forget about OLD THING, that was yesterday's OLD THING NEWS. 

I've noticed that, particularly among younger employees, this can create a culture of fear to fail. And ultimately, with no reflection to build and grow on if something happens, we're doomed to repeat similar habits, rather than gain insight and come back stronger than we were pre-fuckup. 

In fact, fear of failure holds back two in five people, and the number is even higher when it comes to women.

Another thing we've noticed at our small agency that's become more and more apparent during Covid times:

The idea of leading emotionally and empathetically has never been more important. Sometimes that's just showing we're more than just C-suite people, ad agency leaders, or (which is, more often than not, the case with me) general windbag-types with an occasional insight or two to offer.

So. In Q3 2021, we took these observations and started a monthly salon session called "How I Fucked Up." In these sessions, outside marketing leaders who are generous enough to share their stories as guest speakers tell stories of their career mistakes and lessons learned with candor and vulnerability. 

The simple and distinct purpose: to normalize fuckups. Because they happen.

Maybe you called a famous athlete by the wrong name once during a radio session. I did. Maybe you let a vendor walk all over your work and ultimately suggest she withhold payment when she wasn't happy with your freelance efforts. Also me. Maybe you were so afraid to fail you made a fantastic mountain out of a molehill, to the tune of dozens of wasted hours because you didn't want to acknowledge a simple accounting discrepancy you yourself made. Yep, me again. 

The monthly series has featured everyone from executive producers to small-agency owners to presentation coaches telling their stories, and the results have been incredibly cathartic for both our agency and the presenters alike. 

The presentations have led to a myriad of open and honest internal discussions about everything from setting proper boundaries to knowing when it's time to leave a job. Real tears have been shed. Raw emotions have been displayed. And our culture has become collectively stronger as a result.

And most important, I like to think that the next time one of our people fucks something up, they'll feel just a little bit better about it. 

I know I will. 

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Andrew Gall
Andrew Gall is group creative director at Copacino Fujikado.

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