Failure: Lab Detroit


To most people, failure is not a welcome option; it usually involves feelings of shame and regret. The creators of Failure: Lab aim to eliminate the fear and stigma attached with failure. They are spreading the belief that it’s OK to embrace your failure and take intelligent risks.

Highlighted as one of the events surrounding  the North American International Auto Show, Failure: Lab was held at the downtown Detroit pop up space Michigan House in collaboration with Creative Many Michigan. Michigan House features events that focus on the creative ingenuity of Michigan made products. Failure: Lab Detroit was an intimate showcase of individuals whose stories are proof that failure is a necessary juncture that many of us experience on our journey to success, and the journey has no definitive end.

Inspired by the acclaimed TED talks, Failure: Lab was started in 2012 by West Michigan natives Jordan O’Neil, Jonathan Williams, and Austin Dean. It has gained a faithful following, holding events as far away as Chandigarh, India. This was the event’s second time here in Detroit and its fifteenth, thus far. Failure: Lab is comprised of three main components: storytellers, performers, and the audience. Each storyteller tells a short story about a time in their life when they experienced failure. The stories are insightful and purposely left unfinished; they end abruptly in order to allow the audience the opportunity to think about how they relate to the story and glean their own lessons from it. The audience is asked to write down their thoughts about the story and also tweet their feedback with the hashtag #failurelab. At the end of the show, everyone is free to engage with the storytellers. In between the stories, rock artist and previous Failure: Lab storyteller, Steffanie Christi’an provided melodic empowerment with passionate performances, giving the audience a chance to clear their minds, recharge, and refocus for the next story.

According to co-founder Jonathan Williams, the storytellers are individuals “who are doing progressive, innovative new things.”

Native Detroiter Sabrina Nelson is an artist/ educator who rocks various mediums of art. She is currently part of the admissions department at the College for Creative Studies, as well as an art educator at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This bold and versatile woman candidly shared her story about being a teen mom who always knew that she was an artist. She wisely stated, “You don’t grow up to be something that you already are.” Her story centered around her failed attempt at applying to CCS after she graduated from high school because she was ignorant about how to pursue formal education for her talents. Sabrina shares the late Henry Ford’s belief that failure teaches you how to try again more intelligently.

A native of west Michigan, Christian Birky is the founder of Lazlo, a menswear apparel company based in Detroit. Birky is committed to producing sustainable clothing with integrity. The company utilizes organic cotton and makes it a point to hire former inmates who were trained to sew during their incarceration. While studying politics at Princeton university, Christian allowed his fear of failure to hinder him from pursuing his dream of studying architecture. Humorously referring to Princeton as prison, Birky went through a painstaking period of self discovery before he gained the courage to live the life that makes him happy.

As the Global Head of Design for Fiat-Chrysler automotive, Ralph Gilles is no stranger to creating outside of the box. The native of Montreal was raised with strict educational values by his Haitian parents and was expected to pursue a career as doctor or a lawyer. However, his knack for sketching cars since his childhood led him to his destiny. Ralph seemingly failed his parents when he dropped out of college, they literally treated him like an outcast but, his resilience proved to be a catalyst for his success.

Failure: Lab Detroit was a cathartic exhibition of how seemingly life altering failures, can eventually transform into success.

Raquelle "Rocki" Harris
Raquelle "Rocki" Harris

As a passionate media presence, Rocki covers culture, entertainment, and relationships. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram @writedowntoit, and Twitter @writedowntoit3. She is also the host/producer of Rocki's Reality podcast (@rockisreality), where she facilitates unfiltered and unapologetic discourse.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Join Our Newsletter

Get the latest news from Rolling Out.