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On R&D: not prepared to fail - let’s talk about language

One of the things we remembered being told, particularly in relation to Research and Development work, was to enter that phase prepared to make a mess and to fail. Failure, as we know, is a crucial part of grappling, resolving, finding out what you want to do - discovering your focus and direction. While we understood that, we couldn’t help but feel a sense of deep resistance to that sentiment. Let’s deconstruct some of the possibilities of why.


There are layers of things at play here and each is interconnected with the other. At the risk of repetition, we will touch on three aspects: experiences, power of the word and expectation.



You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as far.

Embedded within sentiments like this, is the recognition that oftentimes we are operating within systems that favour Whiteness, able-bodiedness and cis masculinity. At the heart of such systems is the inherent imposition that basic survival - for bodies outside of that favoured class - involves doing and going beyond one’s best. The culture of work and the revolutionary activism of rest - particularly for Black bodies, testify to this overwork concept. While we may not subscribe to the concept of capitalist productivity, we are involved in relationships that dictate that you get what you give and for bodies outside of the European-capitalist-defined norm - we tend to be required to give more to be even visible within the rat race. While within this modern age we embrace the wellbeing philosophy of working slowly, we still work and that effort of work - however defined, is one that requires expenditure of energy - energy that is precious and valuable. The luxury of play and failure is afforded to some. For others, the consequences of failure can be hard-hitting.


Power of the Word:

We look at the English language and recognise some of the ways in which it carries power - conversational statements like ‘I will let you go now’ - while not intended to carry ill-intent, assumes one has power to make another come or go. In stating feelings of unwellness, we say I am sick, the: I am... as in the essence of who we are, followed by sick. In actuality one cannot really be sick, but rather carry sickness, feel sick or have a sickness on them. 


According to manifestations of Ifa philosophy in the diaspora, reality is first constructed by thought. The thought is given the power to be made manifest through utterance - the spoken word. Utterances are our spells, the ways in which we make things happen - good and not-so-good. Our words, within these energetic ways of thinking, help to shape our reality.

Articulating a willingness to fail, sets in motion actualisations of failure.


While we can argue that manifesting failure is a positive experience - insofar as it allows us to know what not to do and where instead to focus - the distinction here is on the emphasis. While circumstances of failure may happen and in some ways may need to happen in order to fine-tune the work or vision, the articulation or embracing of that concept perpetuates a mindset of defeatism or loss - again, manifesting into reality that  articulation. That mindset is potentially damaging to cultivating creative work. For people who come from legacies of colonisation, the work is in re-building self belief, love and the agency to make positive change in our own lives. Should not our utterances necessarily reflect the intended outcomes of that work?



Some of us can relate to the experience of children going unnoticed in school classrooms not only because they were neither disruptive or confidently participating in lessons but also because there was no expectation of them. There was no desire to encourage or persuade them because (for whatever reasons) there was little capacity for care. This scenario, speaks to the third proposed reason for refuting a preparedness to fail. Here, we follow the through-line from the power of the word and acknowledge that expectation carries a heightened energy of desire, of wanting, wishing. The reasons behind refuting an expectation of failure become clearer when considering that some of us are silently (and sometimes not-so-silently) battling the social constraints of what bodies like ours are supposed and not supposed to do. While we contort within the readymade boxes that aim to define us, we undertake the challenge to forge our own custom made shapes or to remove those boxes altogether. That agency to react creatively to the limitations of superimposed expectations, perpetuates the ‘we’ll show you’ internal resistance that often leads to the capacity to start again when things don’t go as planned and to eventually succeed.


And so:

We understand that within the making, building and realising of creative work, there will be moments of success and moments when things go to an alternative plan. We understand that in falling we get back up. We adhere to the notion that a rejection helps to point us in the direction we ought to be facing. We are excited by the exploration of language, of rethinking some of what we may take for granted and in considering - that if it is so that our words are spells - how do we speak life, prosperity, love and care into being.