Purple Cow Large

Failing Fast

By Digital Strategy — February 8, 2013 - 12:00 pm

The other week the digital strategy team at mcgarrybowen attended Google Creative Sandbox, along with a handful of industry professionals. It was a great day, full of inspirational speakers, exciting demos, and of course – lots of swag!  Here’s our take.

“Failing Fast”: Seth Godin, Author

“If you don’t adapt, you’re as good as dead.”

It was a great treat to hear Seth Godin speak at Google’s Creative Sandbox. Godin set the bar high with a talk on how to create communications that actually stand out and how to get there.

What he said: It’s not enough to be the best of the average, Godin stated, because someone else is going to find a way to do it better. Maintaining the status quo is setting oneself up for failure. Instead, it’s crucial for businesses to open their minds and act as living, breathing entities, rather than static corporations operating under hundred-year old business rules.  If you don’t adapt, you’re as good as dead.

To illustrate the importance of being remarkable, Godin regaled an anecdote from his popular book, The Purple Cow, in which he was driving through the French countryside with his family and came across a field with hundreds of grazing cows. At first the sight transfixed him and his family, but after a few minutes they grew bored of the cows. They were all the same; one blending into the next, and soon they were looking away.  Had there been a purple cow amongst the field of brown cows, though, that would have been remarkable. His children would have insisted they stopped the car so that they could go examine the cow. They’d take loads of photos, tell their friends, give them directions to the field, etc. The point here is that it’s not enough to be a really nice brown cow. In order to stand out – to get people to pull over and pay attention – you need to be purple.

That sounds great, but how do we get there? Fail. He quoted cultural theorist, Paul Virillio, saying, “the invention of the ship was also the invention of the ship wreck”. If you’re afraid to get your feet wet, you’ll never discover what’s on the other side of the river.

What we heard: While ‘failing fast’ is a fairly prominent axiom in startup culture, we seldom hear it in advertising.  In an industry where so much rides on hard success metrics it is incredibly refreshing for someone to not only tell you it’s OK to fail, but to encourage it.  After all, failure is inherent and essential in creating truly innovative and groundbreaking work.  It’s what makes brands and companies remarkable. 


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