Monday, August 1, 2011


This mural sits in the lobby of Wieden & Kennedy, an agency I have admired since I started in advertising. They are one of the few agencies that still does smart, challenging work that respects the intelligence of the consumer.

This little aphorism, Fail Harder, actually appears from the negative space created by thousands of push pins.

It is intended as a reminder to the students enrolled in Wieden's intern program.

It's a beautiful display and while I appreciate its intent I'm not so sure I concur with the sentiment. It feels like it was born from that same cushy school of thought that is less concerned about results and more concerned about self-esteem. The "we're all winners"and here's your trophy for participating mentality.

Sadly, I am all too familiar with this as my daughters have spent the last 8 years at a progressive, creative, developmental school. I could have added the words private and expensive, but that would be like rubbing salt in my own self-inflicted wound.

Next month they start at Catholic High School, a rigorous, college-preparatory school that embraces the 'sink or swim' philosophy. Where losing or not meeting expectations has consequences.

Maybe I'm being old school about this and don't see the wisdom of the Millenial Ways of the world (I also don't see a great body of work coming from them but that's a different story). But I do remember the way it was when I was learning the business.

We did our own self-policing. My partner and I would discuss the merits and the pitfalls of each idea. We did our best to come up with solutions to the client problems. And because we were so rarely given the opportunity to work on the choice assignments, we worked out butts off and swung for the fences. When our ideas didn't make the cut, we found out why and vowed to mend our mistakes.

But we never took any false pride in not winning.

Our credo was best summed up by Gene Kranz, Mission Control leader of the Apollo 13 -- for you younger readers that was one of the rockets we used to regularly send up to the moon -- who had a different take on the topic and said, "Failure is not an option."

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