Don’t Fear Failure, Unlock Your Inner Creativity, and Say Yes By Don Dodge

Don’t Fear Failure, Unlock Your Inner Creativity, and Say Yes By Don Dodge


This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences.This video was published on 3 Dec 2014 on You Tube. I was unable to find the transcript anywhere and had to do it myself. I have posted the transcript here for the public’s learning purposes.

What would you try to do if failure had no negative consequence? Fear of failure suppresses our creativity. See how overcoming early failure lead to creative breakthrough success. Say Yes to every request and opportunity.

Don’t Fear Failure, Unlock Your Inner Creativity, and Say Yes By Don Dodge

Hello, my name is Don Dodge. I worked at Google. If you want to contact me, it’s dondodge@google or if you are a Twitter user, you can find me @DonDodge. So, Google is this amazing company, amazing people, creativity, where there are no limits. Anything is possible. I’ll talk more about how we do this kind of things a little later.

At Google, we call them moon shots, shooting for the moon. Alright. We want things that are 10 times better, not 10 percent better, 10 times better.And it takes a different way of thinking and a different way of approaching problems when you’re trying to do things that are 10 times better. The number one thing that gets in the way of doing great things is the fear of failure. Fear prevents us from doing the things we want to do, that we know that we should do, but we are afraid of failing. So I am going to talk a little bit about failure and how to handle that, and how to break through that fear of failure. How to unlock your inner creativity. We are all creative, but it is suppressed by fear of failure.So I want to talk about how to get around that.And lastly how to say yes to life.

So, before working at Google, I worked at Microsoft with some amazing people.And before that, let me go back in time, I worked at Altavista.That was 18 years ago, it’s hard to imagine now. Did any of you use Altavista? The first search engine. God bless you, thank you. At that time, we were the best search search engine in the world.We were number one. It was not without risk though. We took amazing risks to make that happen.

My group, the group that that I led, invented multimedia search. So to be able to search for photos and images, to be able to search for music or to be able to search for video. Nineteen years later, that seems very obvious. Of course, you can do that. BBut let me tell you, 19 years ago, it was impossible. You just couldn’t do it. There were a few failures along the way. It was a very difficult job to do.One of the things we found was….well, two things. Number one was pornography and number two was spam. And we were innoncent, we didn’t know that people would use this search engine to find porn. Or that they would create all of these pages that were spam.

Spam means that you put pages in there that say that they about something and they are not. They are about something completely different. So we had to invent algorithms and technology to beat them. To find the porn and filter it out.And to find spam and filter it out. This is very very difficult to do. We created these algorithms to try and find the porn,but they weren’t always always successful. We were always missing some. It was very very difficult to do. So we had to have human intervention. Technology couldn’t do it at that time. So we had interns who would come into Altavista, and they would spend all day looking at pages of porn. Interesting job. But we needed to identify if it was porn or not, and our algorithms could only go so far.

So we had these interns come in and they’re looking at porn everyday and they’re saying “Yep, that’s porn, that’s porn, that’s porn.” Okay, great! After a week or two, we started to get a little concerned about what would happen if they are going to look at porn all day everyday. This could be a problem. So we took the people who were looking at porn, and we put them over to the group that was looking at spam, and identifying spam, and we took the spam people and put them on the porn. And we kept moving them back and forth.

There probably would have been some excellent sociological experiments that we could have done, but we were too busy trying to create this technology, so we didn’t really do it. But it was an interesting time. It was one of the most creative and amazing times of my life. I’ve the good fortune to work with lots of interesting people and creative people.

Napster was another one. Immediately after Altavista, I went to Napster.An we changed the world. Literally changed the world. How people find music.How they appreciate music. How they appreciate music and they move on.We thought that we were going to be what iTunes is today. But we failed. We managed to change the world but we failed in our objective. iTunes could not have existed without Napster coming first. We paved the way so that iTunes could exist. And for that, I think, okay, it wasn’t a failure. It was fun.So how many of you used Napster back in the day. Just about everybody. Excellent, it was fun, wasn’t it? Too bad, it doesn’t exist anymore.

Winston Churchill is one of my favourite people and he has some amazing quotes, but this one I love: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It’s moving forward that counts.”

Having the courage to move forward that counts most. So in the case of the Altavista and Napster, and even of Google, we had tremendous success. But success is not final, it’s not guaranteed. You have to work hard every single day to maintain that success.No one is going to give you anything. So today, there are thousands of people all over the world, trying to do a better search, trying to do a better YouTube, trying to do a better Google maps. And everyday, there are thousands of people at Google, who are trying to do it better and running as fast as we can. That creates an amazing environment.

When I moved to Silicon Valley, one of the first thing that I realized was there is a force field of enery around Silicon Valley. It’s the highest concentration of type A personalities, creative people, brilliant scientists that I have ever seen in my life. And what it does, it drives you to more than what you ever thought possible. It pushes you that sense of competition, and that collaborative work environment, working with other people, pushes to excel and do things that you didn’t think you could do. It’s an amazing place.

Afte I was at Google for about six months, my friends at Microsoft and many other friends said, “Don, tell me about Google. It’s such a stunning company. How was it different, how do they do it?” And I coined this phrase, “At Google, achieving 60 percent of the impossible is better than 100 percent of the ordinary.”

And what we mean by that is those moon shots, that I talked about earlier, we want to do things ten times better, not ten percent better. And in the pursuit of doing something ten times better, a moon shot that seems impossible. If you only get 60 percent of the way there, that’s okay. That’s great. Because we would rather have that than have tiny incremental improvements of ten percent. So that’s the way we think about it. And I is fairly uncommon, most companies don’t think that way. So I’ll tell a little bit, oh… Let’s go back in time even further.

So, if you were to walk into any first grade class, and you ask them “Can you paint?”, every hand goes up. “Yes, yes. I can paint.” If you ask them, “ Can you sing?” Every hand goes up. “Yes, I can sing.” It’s amazing, they are creative and they are confident. Ten years later, this is what happens. Ten years later, you go ask the same students “Can you paint?” Not a single hand goes up. “Can you sing?” Maybe one or two. What happened, what happened, to these kids? Well, the problem is that we teach conformity. We don’t teach creativity. We teach our kids to conform, to paint within the lines, to do only what we tell them to do. And after a while, it takes a toll and that creativity get back smaller and smaller, and recessed back into your mind,back into your brain. We create these filters that don’t allow us to be creative. But it goes back even further.

This poor baby is totally overstimulated and overwhelmed. And the problem is babies don’t know. They don’t know how to filter. They react to everything. Everything is equally important. All all of these senses, after a while, it just overstimulates them and they can’t take it anymore and they cry. So if have a baby, you know, this happens. Babies’ first word that they learn, other than mom and dada, the first word they learn is “no.” “No, no I don’t want that.” That’s the first word they learn. That becomes a problem later on. It becomes a problem for parents, when you are trying to do things and they always say “no”. But I’ll show you later why that’s a big problem.

But adults do that too. Adults get into sensory overload. If you have ever been to Disney World. I’ll never forget the first time that  went to Disney World with my two sons. They were very small, and you are in a seas of thousands and thousands of people. And there’s music blaring. And there’s beautiful signts, and there’s kids yelling and screaming. And every kid is yelling “ Dad, dad, mom” and all ten thousand kids that are yelling dad, I think it’s mine. So, I am overstimulated. At the end of thd day, I was exhausted.I couldn’t take it anymore. I was overstimulated.So even adults, we create these filters. So we filter things out. Remember Julian’s presentation earlier today about sound and sensory and how we create filters to filter things out. Yeah, we do that. Aldults do that. Babies do that. And overtime, we get really good at it. So remember the baby that say no all the time, as adults, we do that too.

We sit home with our remote control in front of the TV and say “No, no, no, next, next, next.”We can say “no” 50 times in one minute. Fifty times. We are very good at saying “no.” But, we’re not very good at saying “yes.” So, I want to talk about how we overcome failure to do amazing things. How we unlock our creative inner self and how we say “yes” rather than “no.”

So the pattern matching, whenever you meet someone on the street, the first thing you do before they even approach you, you’re starting to do pattern matching. You’re looking up at their eyes, at the way they walk, you’re looking at if they are smiling or not. And you are deciding right away, within the first second, whether you’re going to interact with this person or not. On the breaks outside, when saw people, now we’re all friends here, right? We know each other, but when someone approaches you, immediately in your brain, you are doing pattern matching. And you are trying to figure out, should I interact with this person or not. We are very good at it. So, oh, I am behind, OK, here we go.

Failure is not an option. The first time that I heard this word is from NASA. The Apollo Space Misssion. And when they say that “failure is not an option,” what they meant was we will try everything, we’ll try a hundred times, until we get it right. Failure is not an option. That’s the way that we think at Google. We will not fail. We’ll keep trying until we got it right. I wrote a story about this, failure is not an option. An  I will never forget an executive of a very large European bank came up to me after a conference and said “Don, I read your story about failure is not an option, it was terrific!

But my CEO at my bank also says “failure is not an option.” I said, “That’s great. I love that.” He says “No Don, it’s not good. When he say that failure is not an option, what he means is if you failed, you are fired, you’re gone.” In that kind of environment, how do you think we’re going to get 10x improvements, and moon shots and amazing things? You’re not, because if you are afraid of failing, and you are going to be fired, what kinds of goals are you going to set? Achieveable ones, very small ones. And that’s just not to get you there. So that’s the big difference. So what I want to do is to help you think diffferently about failures.

So, anyone who know who this is? I’m from Boston. This is American Baseball. His name is Ted Williams. He was the greatest hitter of all time, the greatest. In one season, he achieves something that no one else ever did. He hit 406. It was stunning and no one has done it since. In case you don’t know baseball 406 means 40.6 percent. So he was able to successfully get a hit 40.6 percent of the time. But what that also means is he failed 59.4 percent of the time to get a hit. So even though he failed about 60 percent of the time, he was the greatest hitter of all time. So you need to accept a little failure along the way.

This is Thomas Edison, the greatest inventor of our time.He invented the light bulb, he invented the phonograph, he invented motion pictures. And he said “ I haven’t failed 100 times. I have successfully found 100 approaches that didn’t work and I am that much closer to my goal.”

Do you know what this product is? WD40 Do you what it means? WD means “water dispersant.” The 40 means, it was the 40th time, the 40th formulation. It took them 40 time to get it right. Angry Birds, everyone has played Angry Birds right? What you probably don’t know is that this was the 52nd game that the built. Rovio build 51 games before this, and you have never heard of them. But they had the courage to keep on doing something better.

Now this poor guy, he failed one too many times. And if you end up like this guy, you are going to bang your head against the wall, and bang you head against the wall, and eventually, you are going to die. So in order not to do that, what you need to do is don’t make the same mistake twice. Make a different mistake. So when you’re facing a fork on a road, don’t go the one you’ve already been. Go a different path.

I want to talk about dreams. Do you all dream at night, when you sleep? I think you do. Some dreams you remember because they’re so vivid and bizarre, but others you don’t. And what’s happening is all the people in those dreams and the dialogue  that happens between the characters and the places that they happen and all these amazing things, that was you. You created that in your brain. But you did it what you are sleeping. So what I want you to do is to take that creativity when you’re dreaming and dream during the day, dream when you are awake, dream big. You can do it, you have it inside of you, but you’ve suppressed it for so long that you don’t remember. Say “yes.”

“Yes” is the most amazing word. Remember “no” is the word that we learn first and we say the most, but “yes” is the most powerful word. So say “yes” to life, say “yes” to opportunity, say “yes” when someone ask you for help. Because by saying yes, you are going to open the door to other things, other creativity and other opportunities. So I hope that you can feel differently about the fear of failure and unlocking  your creativity and saying “yes”. Thank you very much.

Background Information About Speaker

The following information is provided by TEDx Talks. Don Dodge is a Developer Advocate at Google helping developers build new applications on Google platforms and technologies. Don is also an advisor to Google Ventures providing advice on venture capital investments. Prior to joining Google Don was a startup evangelist at Microsoft. Don is also a veteran of five start-ups including Forte Software, AltaVista, Napster, Bowstreet, and Groove Networks.
Don has been in the software business for more than 25 years. He started his software career with Digital Equipment, aka DEC, in the database group. He was part of the leadership team of five software start-ups. Forte Software was the first multiplatform object oriented development environment. AltaVista was the first search engine on the web. Napster was the first P2P file sharing network. Bowstreet was the first web services development environment. Groove Networks was the first secure P2P collaboration platform.


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