Opinion : What happens when failure is not only an option, but assumed?

I've been on a few projects recently where "no one wants it", "no one wants a part of it", "it's terrible", "oh you're on that ... good luck" and every type of don't-want-it you can imagine.  The type of project you -really- want to ask the people that were there before and ask them just WHY.  The client knows it, you know it going in but you do it anyway.  Then something totally unexpected happens... it doesn't fail.  It may even become an amazing success, and even more oddly, it usually does.

So why don't they fail?

Since I've been off a particularly challenging project, I've had time to not only be on another failure assumed project, but think about what happened.  Interestingly, a video game summed it up.  There's an intro in modern warfare 2 that talks about the characters being on a suicide mission.  They know they're going to die doing this, but there's a bit of liberation, a freedom that occurs when you know something is -going- to end but you get to decide that outcome.  It releases your mind to do things you normally wouldn't consider acceptable, much less possible.  "It's stupid enough it just might work" is a requirement.

This is where the original problem was kept, hidden from view.

I've now sat here for half an hour, writing and rewriting an explanation of a blend of contained creativity and fear of failure seem to truly cripple projects.  I can't come up with concrete examples nor even theoretical examples -- yet somehow the argument still seems valid.  I'm not sure if the expectations need to be adjusted, such as on style.  Who says "this is the way yee shall render a grid!" ... there's reasons why cars, homes, businesses all look different.  When people are told "we have no idea how this is going to work, but we want to you to <accomplish something>".  Maybe a focus needs to be on the resulting end goal instead of all the problems on the way?

To return back to my own promise of posting "how long did this take" -- this post took 2 hours and one review by someone not in the tech world ... at all.