Report – The F Word

Posted on: Thursday 05 July 2018 10:22pm

Steve Jobs, James Dyson, Walt Disney and Marilyn Monroe all have one thing in common, they are all ‘failures’. The panel discussed how to embrace failure, welcome risk and find opportunities when it all goes wrong.


  • Innovation cannot happen without failure.
  • Reframing failure, learning from it and moving forward can lead to success.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek support and take on board feedback.


Shari Donnenfeld opened the session by joking that most people are happier saying the other F word than failure, before introducing the panellists: Cathal Gaffney, Managing Director/COO of Brown Bag Films, Biren Ghose, Country Head at Technicolor, Linda Simensky, VP of Children’s Programming at PBS and TV presenter, mind coach and author, Anna Williamson.entitled

Biren discussed his journey through failure. ‘Early exposure to failure teaches us to read the signs and produce our own luck,’ he advocated. UTV Toons had too little investment, no interest from broadcasters in Asia and was a loss-making business. While the company employed 800 people, the animators were creating 1 second of animation a day. Biren had to let 700 people go. But with a smaller workforce of 100, they were producing at least 8 seconds a day. They hired 300 people, with animation targets and incentives. The company began to break even, but his request for the board to provide $5-6 million was met with a no and the studio had to close. Biren had to start again as an independent. He now works as Country Head, India for Technicolor.

At age 25 Anna had an emotional breakdown and was diagnosed with GAD, depression and panic disorder. She thought her career was over and felt like a failure. Therapy taught her to communicate more effectively, learn not to people please and work out what she wanted from life. ‘People can’t help you if you don’t let them help you,’ she stated. Anna spoke about mental health to the press and joined the Mind charity, determined to destigmatise mental health issues especially in media industry. After training in mental health therapies, Anna felt more in control of her life. She was offered a job on ‘This Morning’ – the first job she was offered without asking for it. Anna’s book Breaking Mad launched last year and was a number 1 Amazon best seller. Her second book Breaking Mum and Dad also went into the bestseller list. Anna finished by saying, ‘Never let anyone tell you you can’t, because you can.’

Cathal talked through his ‘top failures’. He failed maths in school and couldn’t get into art college, so he went to animation college instead and failed that too. He set up Brown Bag in 1994 to make short films and became an accidental entrepreneur. In his office hangs the letter that stated he was kicked out of college alongside his Oscar nomination letter. Cathal discussed his initial failure to know his target audience – he now makes shows for kids first, broadcasters second. He then discussed the pitfalls of failing to focus and how Brown Bag decided to do one thing and do it well, shutting down their successful commercial arm to focus on long form content. Luck is such an important part in any part to success, but you have to take a leap. Innovation is about celebrating fails. We have to embrace innovation and failure. ‘Fail Fast, Fail Cheap, Fail Often’ – is the quote that Cathal lives by.

Linda discussed a project that she worked on that went ‘horribly wrong’. She created a series with an artist, that didn’t do particularly well. The expectations for the series were very high, but the show ended up skewing younger and had more appeal for girls, exactly the opposite of what Cartoon Network wanted. Linda admitted that she ignored the feedback she had received from colleagues and marched on regardless. Through the process she learnt a lot of good lessons – listen to feedback and ask questions, don’t be arrogant and ignore it. If you ask people in the office for feedback, it engages them with the show as part of the process. Taking feedback from the least experienced people in the office, made her a better colleague and made her think better. Linda ended by saying, ‘Failure was so personal, so I feel right now like I’m letting it go.’

In the Q&A session, an audience member asked how to get over failure. Anna highlighted the importance of realising there’s life outside of work. Linda recommended not labelling it as a failure and positioning it as an experiment instead. Biren advocated the importance of helping your team focus on their strengths.


Written by Emma Boucher

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