The famous Nietzsche quote is a contender for a failure embracing tagline. As well as the title of a book… ‘What Doesn’t Kill Us’ by Stephen Joseph, professor of psychology, health and social care at Nottingham University. I especially liked his turn of phrase turning some of life’s most extreme adversity on its head – “post-traumatic growth”. In examining this phenomenon, he provides a fresh perspective on treating adversity.
- “Many years of research into post-traumatic stress have convinced Joseph that people who encounter something shocking or life-threatening often thrive as a result; that alongside suffering and stress they achieve what he calls ‘post-traumatic growth’. ‘People tend to talk about how their sense of self has changed, how they’ve become more compassionate, or wiser, more mature as a result of what’s happened to them,’ he says. ‘Very often, their priorities have changed. We all tend to spend our days rushing around, going to work and concentrating on our careers and maybe family and friends get pushed into the background. After a trauma, people value their relationships. What was in the background comes to the foreground and the chasing of wealth and status gets pushed away.’
Joseph’s observation in “changed priorities” echo the insights of my father’s possibly signature sermon “It Could Have Been Otherwise” where he reflects on a giant tree falling on his moving car inches and/or nanoseconds from instant death. It was a tragic accident, the Zeebrugge ferry which capcized on this day in 1987 killing 193 that inspired Joseph’s own examination…
- “In a survey three years after the event, he asked whether their view of life had changed for the better or worse. To his astonishment, although 46% said their outlook had changed for the worse, almost as many — 43% — said it had changed for the better…This led to a career-shaping belief that much of our approach to treating people suffering from trauma is wrong-headed. In his book, he writes scathingly of the growth of a ‘trauma industry’ that feeds on the distress of people who have been through life-changing events, so much so that therapy itself has become part of the problem. He believes we have developed a ‘medical’ approach that ‘puts therapists in a doctor-like position, which takes away from the patients the responsibility for their own recovery . . . the very word patient is problematic because it portrays the person as someone who is damaged, impaired, deficient, maladjusted’…‘Going through it definitely changed me,’ says [Susanna] Pell [who survived the 7/7 London bombings]. ‘Having survived something terrifying gives you an inner strength you can draw on and learn from. Whenever I am in a difficult situation now I say to myself, ‘Well, this is nothing’. You become acutely aware of other people’s sufferings and you understand something about what it is like to go through hellish things. It has definitely made me more sensitive.’ The challenge for psychology, Joseph believes, is to create a new approach. ‘The more traditional therapist is a bit like a car mechanic. Something’s wrong with the car and the therapist is the expert who’s going to work out it’s a leaky radiator and fix it. But if we think in terms of growth, maybe the therapist should be more like a gardener who’s nurturing growth, acknowledging our capacity for transformation.’ Just trying to put someone back together mentally isn’t enough, he says. Imagine you knock a precious vase from a shelf and it smashes. If you glue it back together it may look similar, but will always have cracks. Best to try to create something new with the pieces — you might end up with a surprisingly beautiful mosaic.”
“Nothing to fear but fear itself” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt Inaugural Address 4 March 1933
I often criticize Godin for being too focused on the upside without enough attention to the downside and you might think that this post “Avoiding fear by indulging in our fear of fear” a target for such critique. He actually endorses a “Managerial” perspective that embracing downside possibilities (by getting “a will, a health proxy, an insurance policy or an up to date checkup” despite the fear they engender just thinking about what they protect)…
- “We loudly keep track of all the failures of commission around us, but never mention the countless failures of omission, all the mistakes that were made by not being bold. To track those, to remind ourselves of the projects not launched or the investments not made is to encounter our fear of forward motion. (So much easier to count typos than it is to mention the paragraphs never written.) There’s no other reason for not having a will, a health proxy, an insurance policy or an up to date checkup. Apparently, while it’s not risky to plan for our demise, it generates fear, which we associate with risk, and so we avoid it. It’s simple: the fear that used to protect us is now our worst enemy. Easier to avoid the fear than it is to benefit from living with it.”
What I support about this post is his push to fight ‘fear’. ‘Fear’ is an emotional response to downside that the failure embracing side of me does want to minimise. A Manager’s minimisation of downside should not be an emotionally driven approach, but rather one based on as much self-assurance and vision as a Leader pursing a dream.
As the Oscar after-party hangovers subside, today’s post draws inspiration from a classic film by a classic film maker. Costica Bradatan’s New York Times post “In Praise of Failure” (which many readers forwarded to me) is inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “The Seventh Seal”…
- “A better model may be Ingmar Bergman’s Antonius Block, from the film ‘The Seventh Seal.’ A knight returning from the Crusades and plunged into crisis of faith, Block is faced with the grand failure in the form of a man. He does not hesitate to engage Death head-on. He doesn’t flee, doesn’t beg for mercy — he just challenges him to a game of chess. Needless to say, he cannot succeed in such a game — no one can — but victory is not the point. You play against the grand, final failure not to win, but to learn how to fail. Bergman the philosopher teaches us a great lesson here. We will all end in failure, but that’s not the most important thing. What really matters is how we fail and what we gain in the process. During the brief time of his game with Death, Antonius Block must have experienced more than he did all his life; without that game he would have lived for nothing. In the end, of course, he loses, but accomplishes something rare. He not only turns failure into an art, but manages to make the art of failing an intimate part of the art of living.”
Bradatan claims that Block’s embrace of failure symbolised by Death is more essential to life than ever in reasoning not too dissimilar from my reflections on the Age of Black Boxes…
- “If there was ever a time to think seriously about failure, it is now. We are firmly in an era of accelerated progress…Certainly the promise of continual human progress and improvement is alluring. But there is a danger there, too — that in this more perfect future, failure will become obsolete. Why should we care? And more specifically, why should philosophy care about failure? Doesn’t it have better things to do? The answer is simple: Philosophy is in the best position to address failure because it knows it intimately. The history of Western philosophy at least is nothing but a long succession of failures, if productive and fascinating ones. Any major philosopher typically asserts herself by addressing the ‘failures,’ ‘errors,’ ‘fallacies” or ‘naiveties’ of other philosophers, only to be, in turn, dismissed by others as yet another failure…Every new philosophical generation takes it as its duty to point out the failures of the previous one; it is as though, no matter what it does, philosophy is doomed to fail. Yet from failure to failure, it has thrived over the centuries. As Emmanuel Levinas memorably put it (in an interview with Richard Kearney), ‘the best thing about philosophy is that it fails.’ Failure, it seems, is what philosophy feeds on, what keeps it alive. As it were, philosophy succeeds only in so far as it fails.”
- Failure allows us to see our existence in its naked condition.
- Our capacity to fail is essential to what we are.
- We are designed to fail.
The Academy Award for the Best Portrayal of the Leadership-Management Balance goes to…
With the 2014 Oscars upon us tonight, I thought I would assemble a Top 10 list of Leadership and Management films.
- Blind Side
- The Black Swan
- Social Network
- We Were Soldiers
- Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room
- Lethal Weapon
- Star Wars
- Spiderman 2
Of course, the golden statuette has to go to one that itself won an Oscar and illustrates so many powerful lessons on this subject – The Blind Side.
Tonight’s Razzies (or the “Golden Raspberry Awards”) have come a long way from their humble roots in 1981. Starting in a bedroom and now commanding their own red carpet, primetime coverage. Perhaps in the future, they will introduce awards like ‘Lifetime Achievement’. And one of the top nominees would be the 2003 epic “The Room”. Such a failure that it merited a profile in Failure Mag itself titled “The Disaster Artist”. The production is a cult favourite as perhaps the “greatest bad movie ever made”…
- “’The Citizen Kane of bad movies’—a work so senseless and incomprehensible that you can’t help but be entertained. ‘[It’s] filled with red herrings, shots of locations that are never visited, and entire conversations comprised of non sequiturs,’ offers Sestero, attempting to describe what was intended to be a serious love-triangle melodrama, but morphed into a cult-favorite comedy.”
When my son Chase saw that I was writing this post, he became animated, “What an amazing film. It is the so bad it’s good. Watch it!”
The failed snowflake might just be the most apropos emblem of the just concluded Sochi Winter Olympics. From the sunny resort venue selection to the quirky lavatory designs.
Tripp Mickle of Sports Business Daily wrote “After three weeks, I’m still not sure what to make of Sochi” talking about such oddities as the unused purple rollercoaster, ubiquitous musicians in rabbit costumes, and indoor beach volley ball at the mall…
- “Everything was slightly delayed, and that was one of the more charming things about Sochi. I’ve been to more fun Olympics (Vancouver and London)*. I’ve attended more geopolitically significant Olympics (Beijing). But Sochi is the most memorable and unusual Olympics I’ve ever attended. I’m still not sure what to make of it. There was something fascinating about its idiosyncrasies, something surprising about its work-in-progress feel, and something amazing about its ability to avert disaster and pull off an efficient, well-run event… Who knew a work in progress could be so fun?”
The distinctive, not always intentional embrace of failure will be the signature of Sochi. From the Opening where the symbol will be the failure snowflake. Iconic enough that entrepreneurs were cashing in on the failure (see bottom – “Chinese Entrepreneurs Cash In on Sochi Rings Glitch”). All the way to the Closing Ceremonies where the quick reacting and quick witted organisers themselves embraced this primetime failure (see below).
In this world of highly choreographed, engineered, photoshopped perfectionism, the little (and big) failures are what capture our hearts and memories.
- “You’ve got to be willing to fail. You’ve got to be willing to crash and burn. With people on the phone, with starting a company. If you are afraid of failing, you won’t get very far” – Steve Jobs
This interview segment (thanks Karen) by this icon of embracing failure, Steve Jobs (born today in 1955), provides a particularly articulate plea for the need to ask for help. And today, through numerous digital communities and online forums, there are more media for asking for help than ever before and certainly more than was starting out.
Allister Frost highlights some best practice for using Twitter for help in his post “How to Ask for Help On Twitter” including the first bullet…
- “Please Help – this simple, human plea generates more than 160% more retweets than the average tweet. Evidence, if it were ever needed, that social media is all about people helping other people.”