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Failure Not An Option? Thankfully It Is Says Creativity Expert Lee Kitchen.

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Karen Stoychoff

In this season 1 episode 3 of Back of the Napkin - Friday Fails, Lee Kitchen, motivational speaker, facilitator and Magical Innovation and Creativity Dude, talks about the importance of failure, and how it helps us grow. Plus, Kitchen raises the umbrella on how rain made the “Happiest Place on Earth” the stormiest backstage on the globe.


Lee Kitchen helps companies large and small flesh out creative ideas. He offers perspective on risk taking, pushing the envelope, and doing something different, all opportunities ripe for failure. “We know it's going to happen, so let’s not pretend,” said Kitchen.

“The Greatest Teacher, Failure Is.”

Yoda, Star Wars Jedi Master, may not know grammar, but he does understand how we can learn from failure. Failure may not be fun in the moment, but if you can learn from your mistakes, you can become stronger for having made them, according to Kitchen.

He suggests leaders who accept that mistakes happen can inspire their employees to break through the “fear of failure” mindset and free up an organization to grow. “The leaders that I really remember are the ones who were like, ‘All right you guys, we screwed this up. Let’s have an idea session to see how we can do better,’” said Kitchen. “There was no blame placed. I found that those leaders always got better results and better ideas.”

Be Yourself. It’s What You Do Best.

Kitchen says people frequently don a shell to either present as imminently qualified for a task, or to cover a case of “imposter syndrome,” a persistent doubt they may have about their abilities or accomplishments. Both can lead to mistakes of omission, not sharing a good idea, or being afraid of an idea not being well-received. Kitchen acknowledged that he’s experienced imposter syndrome at times, including the fear that he was not “businessy” enough, and his energetic creativity would lead to mistakes in the more traditional work environment. 

“I tried to be the brand manager that my boss wanted me to be, and my boss pulled me aside and was like, ‘Hey, what happened to Lee? We want the fun, energetic, creative Lee back,’” said Kitchen. “It was a soul-searching kind of thing. I just had to be myself and people just wanted me to be me. And that's how I was able to kind of be the best me possible.”

A Rainy Day at Disney.

While it is easy to discuss failure in the abstract and try to find ways to learn from it, hands-on experience is always the best, according to Kitchen. He recounted what he describes as an “epic failure” during the launch of Shanghai Disney, where he was in charge of celebrities and the red carpet. Everything was going great he said, until the rainstorm hit. “We had a rain plan and a regular plan, and we never rehearsed the rain plan, and what happened? It rained,” said Kitchen.

Confusion reigned with more than 300 celebrities huddling backstage waiting for vans that didn’t exist. Kitchen took one for the team. “One of the executives who got lost seven times jumped out, he recognized me, and he gave me my what for,” he recalled. “And I'd never been yelled at with so many expletives for a good 10 minutes with all my colleagues watching.”

Keep Learning, Keep Growing.

Thankfully for Kitchen, the confusion happened primarily behind the scenes. While he caught an earful from the executive in front of his team, there was no lasting damage within the organization. Being in an organization that understands mistakes happen gives everyone the opportunity to learn and do better next time.

“When you have a big failure like that, it's the only way that you truly grow,” said Kitchen. “No use dwelling on stuff that we can't change. Let's just think about how we're going to make it better next time, and all agree that we're going to try our best to avoid that.”

Of course, he admits that there will probably be something you don't think of and you are going to fail again. Just know that and keep going. It is how you learn.

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