Failure as a process: shaping what is worth doing in creative projects

Birke Otto, Benjamin Schiemer, Harry Sminia, Jörg Sydow

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Failure is commonly conceived either as a provisional state or as the unwelcome endpoint of a process. In both scenarios, failure occurs when there is a discrepancy between an expectation and its lack of realization, presupposing a well-defined comprehension of intentions and anticipated outcomes. This definition is challenged when conferred to creative projects, where expectations are not always as explicitly defined and often undergo frequent changes. To understand how failure evolves dynamically, this chapter analyzes failure experiences of individuals working in creative projects – as a form of temporary organization – and investigates how shifts in expectations result from the setbacks experienced. Analyzing interviews with creatives in the arts and sciences, we develop three interconnected dimensions of expectation in creative projects: uniqueness, do-ability, and resonance. We argue that, together, these create the evaluative space within which a creative project may either be continued or discontinued. Our findings suggest that disappointed expectations within this evaluative space are met by either prioritizing certain dimensions of expectation over others, or by realigning expectations with new opportunites. Both responses change the evaluative space in a way that keeps the creative project going. An endpoint failure only occurs when those involved in a creative project run out of possibilities to alter the evaluative space by prioritizing or realigning its dimensions of expectation. Our study contributes to a dynamic understanding of failure as being an entangled process of expectations becoming fulfilled or unfulfilled and thereby overcomes the binary understanding of failure as being merely the opposite of success.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 Apr 2024


  • creative projects
  • failure
  • ideas
  • evaluative spaces
  • expectations
  • temporary organization


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