#FailForward or #NeverSucceed

This post was first featured on the EVERlab blog for Jewish Community High School of the Bay. EVERlab is our new collaborative, design project for helping students integrate their Jewish and General studies.



People told me I was funny.

I would be at conferences, and the caterer would tell the organizer that dinner was delayed for twenty-five minutes, and the organizer would turn to me: make ’em laugh.

I’d tell stories: how I retired, undefeated, from high school wrestling. How I got lost in Disneyland and showed up, an hour later, covered head to toe, in dried-up, crusty grape-beverage.

People would be howling with laughter.

So, the idea came along: why not stand-up comedy.

I prepared an hour’s worth of jokes, musical numbers, and stories, and with a full house, bombed. Badly.

I never did it again.

Working on EVERlab, we are exposed, frequently, to the concept of #FailForward. It’s a fun name for a basic principle: whatever it is, in the beginning, it won’t work. The wheels will fall off, the circuits will melt, and the app will have more bugs than a foodcourt after dark.

Designers know this, and they know that it’s better to allow for failure, notice the failure, name the failure and fix the failure. Designers know that you don’t flop and quit.

EVERlab has had a few amazing #FailForward moments.

FailForward #1: Palette Design


Prototype 1: Looks good, but…




Our goal was to design a hybrid desk/pinboard/presentation kiosk. We imagined slick panels: students would grab them, scribble ideas on them, pin artifacts from their research, and mount on hooks for pitching their creative projects to teams of students. We called the idea “palette” – a double entendre:  the hand-held platform that holds artists’ paint mashed up with the platform that goods are stacked on for ease of movement.


Reality? The first prototype showed up, and it was a #FailForward festival.

For one, the panel was enormous, taller than most 9th graders (so much for portability). It reminded me of that scene in This Is Spinal Tap, where a giant, imposing Stonehenge is designed for a rock concert, but when the prop shows up, instead of 15 feet tall, the stones are 15 inches tall.

But in reverse.

Secondly, while the cork-board cover looked good, by the time the prototype had been delivered, the cork layer had begun to buckle. It was unusable.

#FailForward 2: Things Fall Down

prototype 2




We wanted students to hang their palettes (now redesigned with a slick, white-board covering, and half the size) on the wall, turning the back of the EVERlab into a collective display gallery.


Students and visitors would get a sense of the creativity unfolding, and both the collective and individual enterprise. We ordered hooks with an adhesive back and mounted them on the wall, and a few hours later (with the help of some industrious and generous colleagues) our panels hung, proudly, ready to receive the sketches and scribbles of our students.

Guess what happened? Chicken-Little would have loved it. Within two days:  the panels are falling, the panels are falling!

We set out to research new hooks. Larger hooks. Hooks with screws and hooks with larger adhesive areas and even giant picture frame hooks that required hammering into the wall.


We still don’t have the answer. We’re working on it. It’s the same thing the start-up company says when I write to them, complaining that the device which helps me locate my lost keys is malfunctioning. “We’re working on it.”



Getting better all the time.

On the one hand, it’s enraging. I want things to work. Now.

On the other hand, I know that nothing ever works right the first time. Or second. Or third.

#FailForward isn’t just a design concept – it’s a life philosophy. It’s within anyone who has ever bombed on stage TWICE, picked up the pieces, rewrote the work, rehearsed it, and got out there and knocked ’em dead.

#FailedForward, badly, twice, at the start of his career.


#FailForwarded, badly, TWICE, at the start of his career.

I didn’t have the gumption to #FailForward as a burgeoning commedian, but without that attitude, that world wouldn’t have Trackrs (which still don’t work), EVERlab, palettes, or the finest comedians in the world.

Next time, I’ll try to #FailForward. Otherwise, I know, I’ll #NeverSucceed.

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