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Dana Lyons ’82 has made a career of performing and recording original music. Every setback, or failure, teaches us something, he says. 

How would you define failure and how would you define resilience?

Failure is a loaded word.  It implies one “should have” accomplished something.  I don’t think of things in terms of failure.  I think in terms of something working, or not working. Resilience is the ability to keep coming back to try again, after not succeeding at something:  The ability to come back after being knocked down or set back.

In what ways does failure provide value and/or help lead to success? What are some ways to use failure as a tool?

When an approach to a project does not work, that is valuable information.  It allows you to recognize that your first plan didn’t work, and move onto the second plan.  And the third.  And the fourth . . .  To figure out a new method of creating something may take many approaches.  A “failure” isn’t a “failure”, it is information.

Why do most people generally avoid the prospect of failure and what are ways to encourage more risk? Is it practical to encourage risk?

Most people avoid the prospect of failure in this culture, because this culture teaches us to take orders from the person at the front of the room, and to be docile workers: not to question authority.  People rightfully believe that a “failure” to please the teacher or boss, will result in punishment, or a reduction in choices and opportunities. It is not practical to encourage risk, unless the organization in question is willing to change the power dynamic, removing the “boss/teacher” from having power over the worker/student.  Encouraging risk is just lip service if the worker/student still faces the prospect of punishment.

Are employers/companies beginning to embrace the concept of trial and error—of a willingness to fail?

Wise employers understand that that to let their employees truly be free to innovate, they must respect, honor and protect the rights of their employees. 

Are there any specific examples of failures in your field, or personally, that you can point to as points of change in direction for the better?

I’ve tried some different approaches to recording songs.  Some of them worked, some of them were lousy.  While I’m embarrassed by a few of my recording approaches (which are sitting out there for everyone to see and hear), I’ve learned not to use those recording approaches.

Can you describe the first experience you had with failure at Swarthmore?

I recall being overwhelmed by the amount of reading requested of me at Swarthmore.  This may have contributed to some bad grades at the beginning of my college experience.   I did not consider this a failure, but the experience did cause me some anxiety.