Saying “Yes, And!” to Failing (How Giannis Missed the Mark)

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Image credit: alphaspirit

"There’s no failure in sports.”

Recently, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks superstar, was asked whether he viewed his team's season as a failure after they fell short of their championship goal (they lost in the first round of the NBA playoffs to the #8 seed - only the sixth time in history this has happened). He responded, "There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days; some days you are able to be successful, some days you are not. Some days it is your turn, some days it’s not. That’s what sports is about. You don’t always win."

Giannis was widely celebrated for his response and attitude and, while I do believe his point of view is positive and helpful, I feel like it misses the mark in one important way.

The heart of what Giannis is saying here is “no, we did not fail.” That is not entirely true. The team was the #1 seed, the favorite in the conference, and they had a goal to win the NBA championship. Instead, they were eliminated in the first round. Without judgment or emotion, it is fair to say that they failed.

What I would have loved to hear him say is, “yes, we failed, but that does not make our team a failure, and it does not make me a failure.”

This seems like a subtle difference, but to me it is an important one. In Giannis’s response he was still avoiding acknowledging failure, which feeds into the notion that failure is bad. He did it in an admirable way, but it still makes failure seem like a terrible thing to admit.

Failure is a part of sports. It is a part of business. It is a part of life. But we are all conditioned from a young age to think of failure as a bad thing and something to be avoided at all costs.

As a speaker who uses improv comedy to inspire and educate, I have seen firsthand the transformative power of embracing failure. In improv, there are no scripts or rehearsals; everything is created on the spot. This means that mistakes are inevitable. But it also teaches the invaluable lesson that they are essential to the creative process. When we embrace the "yes, and" mentality of improv, we learn to accept and build upon whatever comes our way, whether it's a brilliant idea or a total flop.

Similarly, in life we must learn to embrace the unexpected and the uncertain. We must be willing to take risks, to try new things, and to accept that failure is a necessary part of the journey. When we normalize saying, “yes, and” to failure, we create a culture of innovation, creativity, and growth. We inspire others to take risks and pursue their dreams, even if they might fail along the way.

Of course, no one sets out to fail. But by normalizing failure and helping people see it as acceptable, you open the door to greater creativity, communication, and performance. When we view setbacks as opportunities for growth and development, rather than as signs of weakness or incompetence, we are more likely to take risks and pursue ambitious goals. We become more resilient, more adaptable, and more confident in our ability to overcome obstacles and succeed in the face of adversity.

In short, failure is not something to be feared or avoided; it's something to be embraced and normalized. We must learn to acknowledge our mistakes, take ownership of our shortcomings, and use them as opportunities for growth and development. By doing so we become more resilient, more adaptable, and more confident in our ability to succeed. Let's embrace failure and all its messy, beautiful, transformative possibilities.

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