Fail like a feline; why cats winning the internet is good news for innovation

Pat Devery, Digital Editor
Pat Devery, Digital Editor

If dogs truly are people’s best friend, why have cats won the internet?

Cats are truculent, demanding of your affection, completely conditional in giving their own and stay out all night without even a hint of remorse. With some noticeable exceptions that generally involve table tennis, they are rubbish at ball games.

Dogs, on the other hand, are unfailingly loyal, offer love and protection unconditionally and can surf, skateboard and catch Frisbees. And yet it isn’t Fido sitting behind that keyboard on YouTube and racking up gazillions of views, it’s Felix. Why?

Theories abound, from cats being the perfect canvas upon which to project human emotion to geeks – the type of people likely to be watching YouTube anyway – being predominately cat people themselves.

The one I like involves authenticity and our natural attraction to it. Cats have a scorching case of the Rhett Butlers – frankly, my dear, they don’t give a damn.

When a cat hilariously fails to make the jump from bench to stove top, it doesn’t walk around with its tail between its legs and a sheepish expression on its face. No, it sits, perhaps licks a paw and saunters off to take on the next challenge . . . which may or may not involve fighting the printer.

The YouTube video might be titled “EPIC FAIL!” but the cat doesn’t care it failed. For a feline, failure isn’t really failure at all.

In my workplace, there is a poster that reads “what you would do if you knew you could not fail?” It’s a message that provokes thought because it encourages us to shed the number one inhibitor to innovation: fear of failure.

As Peter Gray, psychologist at Boston College, writes in Psychology Today, “wide-ranging thought requires a sense of freedom from consequence”.

In the recently published book, The Other ‘F’ Word, co-author John Danner encourages us to think of failure in the same way we do gravity. “It’s a pervasive fact of life that you can’t ignore but can leverage to reach new heights,” he says.

Businesses – for good reasons – are now trying hard to engender this attitude in their people. In the current climate, innovation is the key to growth and innovative people are the key to innovation.

It’s why you might hear a phrase like “safe to fail” from the lips of executives in your organisation, or see posters on the wall near you proclaiming things like “what you would do if you knew you could not fail?”

Of course, repeated without thought, these themes risk becoming mere organisational tropes. But put into practice in identifiable and practical real-life scenarios, they can and do build a culture where people are empowered to follow their own instincts and trust the power of their original ideas.

In other words, they become a little bit like the cat – striving to make the big leap but not scared off from trying just because they might fall.

And if you need evidence of how successful cats are, just check YouTube.

3 thoughts on “Fail like a feline; why cats winning the internet is good news for innovation

  1. I agree with Shellee…what a great way to make an essential point, in particular given the technological advances and changing, more flexible work environments.

  2. Really interesting article Pat. I have to admit, I clicked on the some links and had a bit of a giggle. What a great way to make a very good point!

  3. Hi Pat,
    I can’t agree cats are truculent. They are intelligent, loyal – and discerning! But I do agree with your thesis that it’s a sense of freedom/ability to act without fear of consequence that helps drive innovation. You’ve made a great point – I think fear of failure is with many of us daily and we should try to ask more often not WHY but WHY NOT.
    A terrific thoughtful piece.
    Thank you

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