Obsessing About Failure

Earlier this week, Adam Savage, maker, father, madman, and co-host of Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters”, spoke in his podcast about being a Geek Dad. It’s well worth the 23 minutes to listen to the whole thing, but if you don’t have the time, or the attention span, or you fear that leaving your geekling alone for that long would result in the cat being hot glued to the Roomba (hey, it’s your excuse, I’m just trying to meet you halfway), here are the two main points to take away.

  1. Obsession is good
  2. Failure is always an option

If you are a fan of Mythbusters, you will probably be familiar with #2. It is one of the two basic tenets of the show, the other being “When in doubt…C4”. Some of the greatest episodes were those that succeeded only after an entire day of failure after spectacular failure. Not only were they highly entertaining to the audience, the hosts themselves were more jubilant after a day of Tory sustaining bodily harm or Jamie wearing out the censor’s beep button finger than when a test would go right on the first try. “We learn more from failure than from success” may be cliché, but it doesn’t make it untrue.

The first point is a little harder to embrace, as obsession is seldom portrayed as a positive trait. Most of us associate the idea of obsession with conditions such as OCD, which Hollywood tells us is either funny (“What About Bob”), tragic (“Moby Dick”), or a combination of the two (Tony Shaloub’s “Monk” or Michael J. Fox’s “Dr. Kevin Casey” from Scrubs). However, being obsessive is not the same as having an obsessive compulsive disorder. It is the natural state for children. Their world is full of fascinations, and the way they discover who they are is to see something that interests them, to focus intently on figuring it out, and if it doesn’t keep their enthusiasm, to toss it aside and moving on to the next wonderful new thing.

One of the finest examples of this kind of geek parenting can be seen in the Disney movie “Meet the Robinsons”. It perfectly demonstrates the power of a child’s obsessive imagination when coupled with the support of geeky parents when things don’t work right on the first try. The Robinsons are a family that celebrates failure and fully supports each others’ obsessions, regardless how wacky they may seem. It’s no accident that the family motto comes from one of the most creatively geeky minds of the 20th century. If you have not watched this movie with your children, you need to buy, rent, borrow, stream, or download it immediately.


Scene From Meet The Robinsons – Copyright 2007 Walt Disney Company

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