I’ve been reading a lot about innovation lately. It’s making its appearance in a lot of places, particularly in the business world. There is no lack of chatter about what it will take to make America #1 again (or maintain it, depending on which article you read or blog you listen to). While innovation is often equated with technology, think Apple, LinkedIn, Facebook etc., there is a lot more to it.
Innovation can be as simple as finding a target audience for something that you hadn’t considered before. For example, there was a problem educating African-American women about heart disease – a health concern that is of great import, yet pharmaceutical companies, advocacy groups and other organizations weren’t able to make a dent in. Eventually, the discussion was taken into the hair salon where these women went sometimes weekly. Trained to bring up the subject and provide more information (or how to access more information), African-American women all over the U.S. were all of a sudden learning about a deadly disease, listening (and you know how long some of those hair styles take so there was plenty of time to listen) and more importantly, doing something about it.
You may be asking yourself, “interesting, but what does this have to do with comedy?” A lot, actually, and not what you may be thinking. It’s not about the increase in new ways to showcase talent thanks to YouTube, podcasts and other non-traditional media.
[colored_box color=”blue”]”Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.” – Napoleon Hill[/colored_box]
Here’s what innovation has to do with and in my opinion, learn from comedy – failure. That’s right – the F word. Failure is as important, if not more important, to innovation than success is. In fact, as you might imagine, some of our most game changing innovators failed over and over again – from Thomas Edison through uber podcaster, Marc Maron. Take his word for it, not mine.
Comedians own this space. The truth is that while business leaders espouse the value of failing “early and often” to lead toward the next great innovation, many do not when it comes to the bottom line. As comedians, we have no choice. No failure, no knowledge. It’s that simple. And the failures we have, as brutal as some of them can be, lead to the tweaks, nuances, self-realizations, alternative paths and stubborn proclamations to push harder that lead to great success. Thankfully, having a sense of humor doesn’t hurt, too.
As opposed to business leaders and others, we may have a lot less to lose financially early on but my guess is that like me, you’re not in this for the money. There’s a personal investment. Imagine spending all the time you do actually succeeding right off the bat, gaining notoriety, a development deal and all the adjacent accolades you can imagine to then find yourself in a new world. Comedy has changed. Audiences changed. You have changed but you don’t have the skills to fail, identify what and why and then move forward. I know – it would be nice to try that version once in a while. Still, failure is a key ingredient in innovation and nothing delivers failure more purely, consistently or directly than a spotlight and a mic in the basement of some dive at 1am in the morning.
Here’s to failure!