Original + unique = some failure

Neil Simon

Neil Simon

Interesting two-punch quotes about success and failure, the topic of my forthcoming book, in today’s New York Times.

The “quotation of the week” is by Neil Simon, one of the most successful playwrights, whose play Brighton Beach Memoirs nonetheless turned out to be one of the biggest flops in Broadway history and closed after one week:

I’m dumbfounded. After all these years, I still don’t get how Broadway works, or what to make of our culture.


Jeffrey Katzenberg

Elsewhere in the paper, they interview Jeffrey Katzenberg, a very successful film producer, formerly at Walt Disney (Shrek, etc) and now at his own DreamWorks Animation:

In order to succeed at the high end of the movie business, you must be original and unique. Now if you were putting an equation up on the white board and you wrote “original + unique = what?” Then the answer would have to be “risky.” And if you said, “risky = what?” The answer would be “some failure.” It has to, by definition, just sort of in the most fundamental way.

Obviously, this applies not just to film-making or Broadway but also to (ahem) writing–a blog, an article in The Economist, a book. And to war (Hannibal and Scipio). And to love. And to science. And to …. life.

Kipling’s impostors are hiding in plain view, as it were.

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5 thoughts on “Original + unique = some failure

  1. It is interesting the way both quotes work together. Unfortunately in too many cases when ‘some failure’ goes up on the whiteboard the reaction is ‘unacceptable,’ and the group/organization/individual quickly moves away from originality and the unique. Hannibal would have loved the Katzenberg quote I think.

  2. Is there a difference in kind between creative success and failure and everyday success and failure? The creative seek both personal satisfaction and acceptance. Survival may or may not be a factor. For the rest of us it is merely a question of survival.

    Yet Kipling comforts totally in both cases. So what is the eternal truth all around us which he describes? Is it the fusion of opposites or the the injunction to lay up treasure in heaven ? Or is it the spirit of the Beatitudes?

    • Well, the advantage of poets is that they don’t have to “translate” their wisdom. The onus is on us non-fiction guys to do that.

      I don’t know what the spirit of the Beatitudes is, I confess. But the eternal truth is what I’m trying to get at in my book. However, it took me 110,000 words to do it, so I can’t compress it into this comment and still have it be … fun. 😉

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