Epic Fail! The Art Of Screwing Up With Style

by Thomas MORADPOUR on January 24, 2011 · 12 comments

Here’s the story.

This is image is from the Oatmeal, part of a series about the state of the Internet today (hilarious stuff, check it out).

Amongst others, it includes a fake screen for when Tumblr is down, along the lines of the notorious Twitter Fail Whale.

Here’s the caption that went with it.
If you’re going to go down, you might as well blame it on an imaginary animal like Twitter did with their infamous Fail Whale. I’ve taken the liberty of creating this animal for you. Please use it. Please oh please – The Oatmeal.

Earlier today, here’s what @oatmeal tweeted.

I don’t know if it’s true. I really hope it is – for that would be quite the stellar move from Tumblr!
It would show they know how to fail with style.


Most people fail, and try to sweep it under the rug. They scramble to try and fix things before anyone notices, which invariably someone does. They go on the defensive, offer all sorts of justifications for what went wrong, deny responsibility. They pretend nothing much just happened and “apologize for any inconvenience they may have caused”. Meaning, “I don’t really care, and won’t even acknowledge there was a problem”. Whatever.

Others fail, and own it. This means recognizing mistakes immediately, and it sends others the message that you care what they think. Don’t be delusional: when you fail, people will notice. You might as well show that you too, noticed, and know that they know. And what says it better than a trio of TumblBeasts?

Failure is actually one of the best opportunities to project what you are about. Note that I’m not talking about not failing, because people who never do, just don’t exist. Everybody fails, it’s just a matter of how you deal with it. Sure, anyone can shine when they’re at the top. But smart people see dropping the ball as an opportunity to pick it up on a rebound, and show everyone what they are truly made of. Do this right and you will turn the story from criticism (“how they screwed up”) into support (“how they are fixing it”).

Finally if you’re going to fail, please, oh please, don’t take yourself too seriously. Let’s face it, there are very few moments in life when taking oneself seriously is appropriate; failing is not one of them. When you fail and show a sense of humor, not only do you defuse the situation, you show a level of self awareness that others will respect; after all, someone will make fun of you… it might as well be you.

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  • http://twitter.com/jackinessity Jackie Coughlan

    Hey Tom! I hope it is true- I love the graphic!


    • Anonymous

      me too!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/Karen5Lund Karen E. Lund

    The only people who never make errors are those who never take risks. If you do anything significantly new and original, there’s a chance it won’t work out the first time. (Maybe the second. Third?)

    Apologize. Fix it. Unless it’s really awful, laugh a little. Figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it happening again, then do it.

    As Thomas Edison said, he didn’t fail, just discovered 10,000 ways that didn’t work. Most of us don’t need that many tries.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, the contrary of succeeding is not failing… it “not trying”!

  • http://twitter.com/OneJillian Jillian For Hire

    Ah HA! I’m surprised Tumblr didn’t already have a fail page active……if they’d made up the TumblrBot that resides in their databases and welcomes new tumbloggers, you would think they would have included a fail page along those lines…

    The Oatmeal IS HILARIOUS. I love that site for killing time. Nice post, Tom, I agree 100%

    • Anonymous

      Quite a surprise indeed!

  • http://www.signalfireproductions.com Signalfire

    Tom, this would be simply fantastic! Your point about owning up to your mistakes is also one that deserves greater note than the graphic. One of the biggest issues brands have is the attempt to spin bad news. Sh*t happens, people (and businesses) screw up. People are a lot more forgiving if you just step up to the mic and say, “yeah, we blew it, but we’re going to bust a** to make it right.”

    Just imagine if they did that in politics?!?!?

    • Anonymous

      I could not agree more!
      What the graphics projects though, is “we’re not trying to hide the failure”. It’s a great first step – it also needs to be backed with commited corrective action… otherwise, it’s just being a smartass.
      Thanks for your comment!

  • http://twitter.com/Galactic Cristian Gonzales

    Every company screws up. Every person screws up.

    It’s how we turn those mistakes into positives that show the kind of potential we have as individuals, and as members of a company’s team.

  • http://twitter.com/solete Anne S.

    I had a boss who used to tell me *very* passionately, “I love to fail” viewing failure as an opportunity to grow. I loved his outlook. Failure certainly is an opportunity to learn, evaluate and grow. The problem is there too much of a stigma around failure, and we impose it on ourselves. In reality failure is part of the natural process, if we take it into account from the beginning does it have to be such a big issue?

    And in some circumstances we do take it into account. Research studies, development and business proposals etc. always outline study limitations, risks, etc. Think about clinical trials development which is centered around trial and error to develop standard therapies.

    So when we fail in other areas why is it viewed so negatively? I think it’s all about setting expectations from the beginning… Can this be done in this be done in this space? Is it a too simplistic view?

    I like that this graphic, as you say, is not hiding the failure. Step in right direction.

  • Anonymous

    Owning up to your mistakes? Learning from our failures? Now there’s a few concepts I’ve never heard of before. Oh, wait a second…

    • Anonymous

      yes, but… tumblbeasts??

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