“The Right to Fail”

In several of the audio-lectures for ICE 502E, Dr. Gangel refers to a classic article written by Albert Sullivan of Boston University and published in the 1960s.
Among the concepts that Gangel favorably draws from Sullivan’s article is the notion of the “right to fail.” While I hesitate (just a little) to designate failure as a “right,” I am very intrigued by the concept. Gangel quotes Sullivan as having written thus:

The right to fail is of the essence of creativity, just as the prevention of failure is of the essence of conservatism. The creative act must be uninhibited and marked by supreme confidence. There can be no fear of failure. Nothing inhibits so fiercely, or shrinks a vision so drastically, or pulls a dream to earth so swiftly as fear of failure.

This is given in the context of a lecture on the interpersonal relations between supervisors and their subordinates. The idea is that those in leadership should be in the practice of providing those whom they lead with the atmosphere and opportunity for creative exploration without having to worry too much about failing.
I often think of the various echela of coaches on the staffs of professional sports teams and the way their contracts seem to come and go with the weather. Are they encouraged to be creative by those above them? If an NFL head coach chooses to “go for it on fourth down” with some kind of wacky trick play, he is liable to be lauded as gutsy and creative, if his offense succeeds in converting the down. But if they are stopped, thousands of armchair quarterbacks and television studio sports commentators will ask, “What was he thinking?!”
I live in a town that is surrounded by campuses for the computer giant Intel. I have been told by some of those who work there, that the company rose to its current glory by encouraging its people to be creative without fear of failure. But now it has a huge slice of the market pie to protect, so now a more conservative mindset of minimizing losses pervades the organization.
I have heard discussions of the same kind of tension in churches, church traditions and Christian ministries. I am intrigued…


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