The Art Of The Dud: Lessons From Failure
So you finally made a dud…
You had a great idea. Spent weeks breathing life into it. Watered it with blood, sweat, and tears.
And the end result…
A big thumping dud
Your inner critic is aghast. They’re working overtime to chastise you. Shouting:
Your reputation is shot!
Your audience will abandon you!
You are not cut out for this line of work!
Perhaps the nagging critic is right. Maybe it is time to hang up the cleats. But before you do; consider this…
What A Dud Really Is?
For centuries the word “dud” referred to a ragged piece of the clothing. The type, if worn at all, donned by peasants not princes.
In the late 19th century the word became synonymous with counterfeit and defective. Now it simply refers to something that does not work.
For the creative, the dud is:
The box office flop.
The book that ends up in the bargain bin; not the best seller list.
The project that seemed good on paper; but floundered in completion.
Why it failed? Who knows. Perhaps it didn’t resonate with the audience. Perhaps it needed more time to complete. Perhaps it fell short of some internal standard.
Whatever the case, what you made wasn’t up to snuff. Now your creative world tilts on its axis. You begin to doubt your abilities, possibly your very existence.
What Should I Do If I Create A Dud?
Recognizing you’ve made a dud is painful. You believed in something, tried to execute, and it didn’t work.
This recognition, while painful, is a good sign. The fact you are anguished shows you care. It shows you have standards. That you are a professional.
While you may consider yourself a fraud, the fraud lacks your standards. They shrug off the dud. Or more likely delude themselves. They blame others in the chain of command, or the poor tastes of the audience.
You have pride in your work. That is reason enough to stick in the game.
Because the game you are in, producing valuable creative work, is a long game. One filled with failed attempts. Consider this:
Most songs produced by megastars like The Beatles and Michael Jackson didn’t become hits. You just remember the ones that did.
Francis Ford Coppola may have directed the Godfather and Apocalypse Now, but he also directed dozens of forgettable films you haven’t seen.
Thomas Edison is said to have made 1,000 failed attempts, before making a spark and creating the light bulb.
Everyone makes duds. If you’re at the top of a field, you’ve probably made dozens of visible ones, and hundreds more behind closed doors.
But the professional pushes forward anyways. They see missteps as a cost of business.
They know their work is bigger than the success or failure of a given project. And that earth shattering ideas often fall on the tail end of a long line of duds.
What Can I Learn From A Dud?
There is another definition of “dud” I did not mention.
In the first World War a “dud” was a shell that did not detonate. While these shells were considered faulty, they were still dangerous. Groups of troopers roamed barren battlefields to look for these empty shells. They knew that if poked or prodded, these duds had the potential to blow up.
Your duds too can enjoy a second life. You may need to polish them up, examine them from different angles, or simply wait for the right time to revisit them. But “dud” is not a synonym of “dead”.
Take pride in the ideas that didn’t flourish. Know they strengthened you. Collect them. Learn from them.
Like the hollow shells of war, your duds too have explosive potential. But you need to stay in the battle to see them burst.