Why resolutions don’t work and failure won’t kill you

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Each member of the MAIM Class of 2016 proposes their perspectives on innovation management in the lead up to their Degree Show “Through the Kaleidoscope: Perspectives on Innovation Management”. In this post, Ruta Eva shares her perspective on how failure and uncertainty can enrich our understanding of the world.

How much does it cost to fail, to fail well, and to learn and grow from failure?


For postgraduate students a new year begins in October and ends in June. When a year finishes and a new one starts it is often seen as a time for oneself to set new goals and resolutions. It is also a time to bask in the glories of a year’s successes and cringe at the wounds of its disappointments, disasters and catastrophic mistakes. The images of a year’s worth of memory are refracted by the clamouring voices of others – media, both social and commercial, politicians, family and friends, strangers, casual observers, cold-callers, coursemates and their poetic contemplation during our studio sessions on Wednesdays. Everyone has their take on the world’s events; everyone is going to have their bit to say.


When a school year begins, inevitably the question of “good resolutions” comes up in students’ mind. At this time, we’re reminded of when we stood in this exact same classroom twelve months ago and decided on the things we had to do in order to improve ourselves over the coming stages – meditate, exercise, gain muscle, increase productivity, achieve targets, meet ends, stop eating meat, cure a disease, write the dissertation of the century…


When events of historical importance are happening all around us, though, and when life’s little traps and setbacks are getting you down, these few little promises to yourself struggle to assert their relevance. Nobody holds you accountable for your resolutions. No one holds you accountable for any of your actions. Too easily, a year can begin with invincible intent and finish with apathy when we fail to live up to our own expectations. Too quickly we aim for perfection without considering that our search for perfection is often the enemy of the truly good.


Mushin about it


So what is this “truly good”? Here let’s drop in a cheeky little piece of Zen thought that goes by the name of Mushin. It is derived from the Zen expression mushin no shin which means ‘the mind without mind’.  Um…? Well, it’s when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear, or ego, free from judgment. In this state a person is totally free to act and react to any situation without hesitation and without disturbance from such thoughts. A person doesn’t rely on what they think should be their next move but develops an ability to react to the unexpected with total calm and clarity. A mental state aimed to be achieved by highly trained martial artist during combat.


Mushin is as applicable to an average day at the office as it is to mortal combat. Take the thought as a Christmas gift with Batteries Not Included. It’s something to play with, an interactive toy for the mind, but after one year’s worth of even casual contemplation the subconscious will begin to reap the benefits of its message. And yes, if you want to train yourself to become a Jedi, this is an essential tool.


Thus anticipation of the future can be challenged and we can recognise that we have no control over the unpredictable events ahead. Then an alternative way to appreciate this end of year opportunity comes not from looking forward and trying to impose this helter-skelter smorgasbord of Herculean tasks. Instead, we can look back and to initiate ourselves into the future by accepting the reality the things that have happened. So now we can ask ourselves: what is the cost of my failure to live up to my expectations of this year? The answer to this question, if we decide to embrace our need for failure, is another question: how much has failure enriched my understanding of the world? How much has it cost to fail, to fail well, and to learn and grow from failure?


It takes a certain resolution to look back and do this. When all’s said and done, what are we really resolving ourselves to do? To carry on, to aim, and to grow. Everyone remembers those influences who guided them through the most gruelling trials in their life – the most demanding professor, the toughest coach. A human needs to work for goals, for love and the respect of others; any reward that comes too cheaply, too quickly, too easily is a hollow victory with a bitter taste. Losing that weight, writing that novel, meditating every day. These aren’t things that begin and end in a year, they’re things of a lifetime.


You can try to guess what lies ahead but take a look behind instead: try to recall every faint step taken forward and every dead-end doubled back; all the gambles that paid off unexpectedly and the best laid plans that did not deliver; those scrapes and scraps with obstacles and riddles, lethargy and illness; those companions lost and those new friends, lovers, families found; the days you thought you couldn’t go on living and the hours you hoped would never end. Now is the time to accept and to let go of the “success” and “failure”. Relish all of the past and relinquish control over the future.



Stay tuned for the upcoming MAIM 2016 Degree Show, taking place at Central Saint Martins from 22 to 26 June 2016.