Last year, we had a great idea for a festival. We were hoping to put on free events one weekend in February, when there isn’t much going on. We got volunteers. We had meetings. We made posters. We picked a date. We talked to venues. People with unusual skills proposed fascinating events. Everyone loved it.
But it never happened.
In short, we ran out of time. We talked to members of BIAs and community organizations, and they were interested, but they couldn’t commit on their own, and by the time they got back to us after getting in touch with their colleagues, we were already edging into the Christmas shopping season, wherein no store owner has time to talk to anyone. We maybe could have pulled something together in January, but that seemed logistically risky, and we didn’t want to crash and burn à la fyre festival.
We often hear from successful people about passion and hard work, but we don’t hear much from unsuccessful people — but they’re out there, and quite often they’re working just as hard. So I thought I’d write a quick post about what we can learn from failure.
- Planning takes longer than you think – not the actual ‘planning,’ what is really time-consuming is getting everyone involved to agree on the plans. It isn’t about coming up with an idea, or explaining your idea to other people, it is about actually getting the same idea, with the same intensity, into many different people’s heads — people who are thinking about a million other things. Sometimes you can do this with passion and persuasion, but it also helps to listen to the ideas that are already there in other people’s heads and try to incorporate them into your own idea. This was entirely my fault, I was busy with other responsibilities and I didn’t put up enough time early in the year to make it happen — something I hope to remedy for Indoor Recess 2018.
- Yes isn’t enough to make things happen. Early on, I had some people voice an interest in participating, and I stopped pursuing other paths to success, while I tried to advance those apparent yeses. But yes I would like to participate isn’t the same as ‘yes I can and will participate’. These people were committed to the project, they made sacrifices in their own busy schedules, they offered advice and assistance, but they weren’t ultimately able to commit to the project completely and by the time we figured that out, it was too late to pursue other options. This isn’t a criticism of the people I was working with, they were helpful and honest about what they brought to the table. This was my mistake again. In the early stages of a project, you need to keep a lot of irons in the fire, you need to gather a seemingly excessive number of yeses and do the hard work of following up on all of them. Because some yeses may not pan out for reasons you can’t predict.
So far, I don’t think I’m saying anything particularly original. Entrepreneurs often recommend that we ‘fail early and fail often.’ But there is another lesson here, this festival, and all the hard work put in by the various volunteers would likely have been completely invisible to the people around us if we hadn’t decided to try again. I often look at all the problems in the world and find myself boiling with anger at the fact that no one is trying to make things better, everyone seems to be off watching movies and taking vacations, and sometimes they are, but there are also thousands of people dreaming up projects in their living rooms, talking over ideas, and trying experiments like Indoor Recess that never get off the ground. So if you, like me, are trying to make the world a better place, you may not be as alone as you think you are. While working on Indoor Recess, I discovered a number of interesting projects/people that I might not have heard of otherwise:
Artery: an event site for pop-up events in homes and other unusual spaces
Crazy Dames: A dynamic duo of artist/educator/planners who create experimental spaces that foster meaningful conversations.
The Danforth East Community Association’s Laneway: Like a pub crawl, with more kids and less beer, in a laneway.
There are lots of us out here, plugging away, trying to make things better, and pretty soon we’re going to start getting things right and getting to know each other and seeing meaningful results in the real world. So don’t stop trying just because things don’t work out at first — and more importantly, don’t stop talking about how to make the world better, just because it seems like no one else cares. Because maybe they do. And maybe hearing that you’re thinking about it too will help them through these dark times.