Sometimes Things Go Wrong: Embracing Failure and Imperfection

Sometimes things can go wrong, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be right too.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about compiling all of the bloopers from teaching videos I’ve made since 2013 into one collection. There are precious few usable stuff-ups that I haven’t put online in some form anyway. Such things can add entertainment value to the final product, but that’s only part of it. In an indirect way, imperfection may enhance user engagement with one’s content. As I’ve argued for a few years now (see this earlier video, for example), the perceived – and therefore real – authenticity of the amateur-professional, impacted by YouTube culture, the ‘selfie moment’, and so on, can have a great deal of power.

A tweet sent out by a student Isaac Wyatt earlier today shared some content that again highlighted how students can inspire the teacher as much as vice versa. Watching the following video by The School of Life not only reinforced the need for me to blog about the usefulenss of showcasing imperfection, but also seems crucial to include in this post:

I’ve labelled myself a ‘perfectionist’ for a long time, and I’ve even had one or two of my past teachers point out this burden for me. I still struggle with its symptoms every now and then; probably always will. Perhaps somewhat ironically, experimenting with more ‘risky’ live broadcasting media like Periscope, which diminishes the control and comfort a video editing program offers, has helped me ease the pressure I often put on myself when on camera.

Baking Perfectionists? by San Jose Library (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Striving for excellence can be is a good thing, but when it becomes an obstacle to trying to do something – or actually getting that something done once you’ve started – then you’ve got a problem. I stressed in a previous post that didn’t consider the problem of perfectionism that nothing is a waste of time except doing nothing. Following on from this, it’s therefore important not to become consumed with one’s finesse to the point of inactivity. Indeed, in areas in which the exact nature of ‘perfect’ plunges into murky waters (if it’s ever crystal clear?) perfectionism can become immensely counter-productive. When making online media, perhaps the best approach is to embrace the error in what so often involves a process of ‘trial and error’ and see the value in it.

CANGRTALATION 🙂 by Lauren Holloway (CC BY 2.0)

While I don’t disagree with anything in the The School of Life’s video, my own take on the value of getting things wrong differs somewhat from the perspective it offers. The video positions the ‘legitimate and necessary role of failure’ as a means to an end, and this is often the case; however, the role and value of failure might be expanded from this alone. Contemporary media culture has in many ways provided a means for ‘failure’ to be an end in itself. Getting things wrong can have real value, particularly when one wants to construct a less than 100% serious online persona.

I see this strategic manipulation of one’s identity being negotiated by students from time to time. Exposed mistakes don’t necessarily result in damage to reputation – they may even enhance it (and I’m semi-surprised we don’t see this kind of thing being played with by organisations more often). Sometimes errors can become assets, depending on how they’re edited, framed, and disseminated, as another student tweet reveals:

I remember one of the first times I started to really think about this was when I saw a board game video by Tom Vasel, founder of The Dice Tower, which saw him actually use a few stumbling moments at the beginning of his video rather than at the end as is generally the convention. I sadly can’t find this clip now (his YouTube productivity is astounding), but a quick search revealed something else I fully expected to find: he also dedicates some videos to bloopers alone. But that one instance of Vasel opening with a stuff-up or two has stayed with me, because it was different. It stood out. A separate blooper video in itself probably no longer signifies as innovative for many people, but it’s my first one so is at least a little bit different in the context of my playlists. Feel free to have a look at the necessary ‘failure’ involved in my work…

All this is not to say that one should broadcast every failure and imperfection out there for the world to see. My reactions to my own mistakes are not always ones I’d want to share publicly – too much visible impatience and profanity can diminish anyone’s reputation. On the other hand, if nothing else (and I hope I’ve convinced you that there is something else to this), keeping and displaying stuff-ups strategically can be a valuable way to showcase to others that making that content involved having fun. Even more than this, doing so can serve as a reminder to ourselves of that enjoyment, and motivate the making of more content.

Putting together the above video felt like I was doing something for myself just as much as I was doing it for anyone else. It’s for a similar reason that I still keep bloopers from videos I made with my brother in high school, and I watch those muck-ups even more than I do the ‘real deal’. Maybe one day I’ll publish those too…

Maybe, just maybe, that footage is actually what captured true perfection.

One of many, many bloopers in the year 1999

Featured image: Perfection by Drew Coffman (CC BY 2.0)

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Joe Bovalino says:

    Great read Adam, from one perfectionist to another. It has always been a challenge for me working in radio, where you are told what you are doing wrong on-air or what you need to do to improve on a daily basis. I have never handled that part of the job.

    1. Adam Brown says:

      Many thanks Joe, glad it resonated with you! I can imagine that’s an immensely challenging thing to deal with, and I doubt there’s a blanket rule re. the best way to respond on-air as opposed to responding on an on-the-fly case-by-case basis…!

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