Beginning of a New Life

Gapingvoid - egg


The Easter season starts with embracing failure. Good Friday commemorates a torturous tragedy that paved the way for salvation and Easter itself celebrates resurrection and new beginnings. Hugh captures this message in his metaphorically apropos post “The Egg”…

  • “Great breakthroughs don’t happen in a vacuum, they are preceded by lots and lots of failure. In fact, without all that paddling around in a big sea of Fail, it is doubtful if the breakthrough would ever have happened in the first place. i.e. Failure is not the end of something that could’ve been great, it’s the beginning of something that will be great. Like an egg, it’s the beginning of new life.”

Happy Easter!

Exhibiting Failure

TCD Science Gallery Fail Better


  • They’re not always silver-lining stories, but even abject failures represent something redemptive.” – Tessa Delehanty, Fail Better Curator

Fail Better exhibition is on at the Trinity College Dublin Science Gallery through the end of April. A review “Noble failures celebrated in unique Dublin show” (thanks Chris) highlights some of the tragi-comical exhibits including…

  • ’Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force’. Invented in 1965 by well-meaning New Yorkers George and Charlotte Blonsky, it’s designed to rotate a pregnant woman, safely strapped into stirrups, at a speed dictated by a large dial at the end of the machine (“It goes up to 7Gs,” says Delehanty) ultimately leading to a newborn baby being propelled from the womb into a net. ‘When the baby lands in the net a bell rings,’ says Delehanty. ‘In case no one was paying attention…Fiennes’s mistake, when he failed to climb Everest in 2005, was partly down to his choice of boots. These sit in the unpacking room waiting to go into a display case. ‘He didn’t clean them before shipping them,’ says [exhibitions manager Ian] Brunswick. ‘They still have the dirt on them. It’s his failed Everest dirt.’”

Teaching Failure

teaching failure


  • This experiment has made me realise how bad I am at being bad at things. I’ve spent my whole adult life ensuring I never have to do any of the many things I’m hopeless at.” – Lucy Kellaway, “Game Theory

You can use ‘failure’ to teach ‘leadership’, but can you teach ‘failure’? The question lies at the heart of much bigger questions. An age old question is whether people are ‘born leaders’. An entire system of higher education – ‘Business Schools’ – was established on the premise that you can ‘teach management’. On my premise that what lies at the heart of both ‘Leadership’ and ‘Management’ is approaches to risk (and risk means the possibility of failure as well as success), then enriching someone’s understanding and dealing with failure is an essential competency to either.

Learning how to fail is not a “paint by number” enterprise (much to the disappointment of Leader wannabes shelling out for counting business guru books). It’s like training to be an athlete or an artist. Yes, a teacher and/or coach can help with tricks and tips. But fundamentally, growth comes from constant exercise. Constant exercise of failure.

As with so many aspects of education, digital tools offer an intriguing training ground for failure especially some innovative new video games. Joel McCoy, in his account of GameLoop Boston 2011 (session “Embracing Failure in Game Narrative”) offers up the example of some new gaming approaches which not only enable repeated failure, but encourage it…

  • “By rewarding what the player may consider failure, you open the world of your game to be interacted with in a free and playful manner. You instil a sense of possibility, and even wonder, while removing player frustration and stress associated with slavishly doing what they guess you intend as the ‘right’ thing, to what they guess is your standard of expected performance.”

Grooming Leaders with Failure

Gapingvoid - prerequisite for learning


If you want your child to blossom into be a Leader, then be ready to embrace failure. Of the “7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders”, 5 of them boil down to not adequately embracing failure…

  1. We don’t let our children experience risk – We live in a world that warns us of danger at every turn. The ‘safety first’ preoccupation enforces our fear of losing our kids, so we do everything we can to protect them. It’s our job after all, but we have insulated them from healthy risk-taking behavior and it’s had an adverse effect. Psychologists in Europe have discovered that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience a skinned knee, they frequently have phobias as adults. Kids need to fall a few times to learn it’s normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will likely experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.
  2. We rescue too quickly – Today’s generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did 30 years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. When we rescue too quickly and over-indulge our children with ‘assistance,’ we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own. It’s parenting for the short-term and it sorely misses the point of leadership—to equip our young people to do it without help. Sooner or later, kids get used to someone rescuing them: ‘If I fail or fall short, an adult will smooth things over and remove any consequences for my misconduct.’ When in reality, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works, and therefore it disables our kids from becoming competent adults.
  3. We rave too easily – Attend a little league baseball game and you’ll see that everyone is a winner. This ‘everyone gets a trophy’ mentality might make our kids feel special, but research is now indicating this method has unintended consequences. Kids eventually observe that Mom and Dad are the only ones who think they’re awesome when no one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the objectivity of their parents; it feels good in the moment, but it’s not connected to reality. When we rave too easily and disregard poor behavior, children eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it. [Ed. a fine article on this particular point is “Parents sinking some kids with their puffed-up praise”]
  4. We let guilt get in the way of leading well – Your child does not have to love you every minute. Your kids will get over the disappointment, but they won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So tell them ‘no’ or ‘not now,’ and let them fight for what they really value and need.
  5. We don’t share our past mistakes – Healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings and they’ll need to try things on their own. We as adults must let them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help them navigate these waters. Share with them the relevant mistakes you made when you were their age in a way that helps them learn to make good choices. (Avoid negative “lessons learned” having to do with smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc.) Also, kids must prepare to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.

For completeness sake, the remaining two were “We mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity” and “We don’t practice what we preach.”

Pathos of Things

Cherry blossom


Oliver Burkeman is becoming a bit of a bard of the breakdown. His latest Guardian article on embracing failure “Happiness is a Glass Half Empty” featured an intriguing concept…

  • “There is a Japanese term, ‘mono no aware’, that translates roughly as ‘the pathos of things’: it captures a kind of bittersweet melancholy at life’s impermanence – that additional beauty imparted to cherry blossoms, say, or human features, as a result of their inevitably fleeting time on Earth.”

He echoes something my best man, Rev. Clifton Thuma, shared with me back at university. What makes giving a bouquet of cut flowers special is there impermanence. Yes, they are beautiful, but if they were not impermanent, after a few giftings, most people would have all the flowers they needed in life. They are given and treasured for the fleeting time they grace our spaces.

Embracing Embuggerances

Terry Pratchett embuggerance


I lost the first industry friend I made in the UK 4 years ago today when prominent IT writer Guy Kewney succumbed to a long battle with cancer. He confronted this megalithic scourge with the same irreverent gadfly spirit with which he took on the titans of technology over his career. In the end, his modest blog “Hunky Mouse” embraced of his condition in some of his most poignant stories he ever penned.

I was reminded of Guy reading the Sunday Times piece, “Hi, I’m just logging off for eternity” (paywalled), on Terry Pratchet who has his started his own online account of his affliction with Alzheimer’s in a further attempt to bring us to grips with our mortality speaking what has been for too long ‘unspeakable’…

  • “Terry Pratchett, another distinguished author, was equally funny. In 2007 he also posted online the news of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, describing it as an ‘embuggerance’ — a fine word, apparently emanating from the Ministry of Defence during the Falklands War — and saying he would ‘prefer it if people kept things cheerful’…Over the past 20 years there have been many other examples of big names choosing to die in public. The internet provides the opportunity. Banks and Pratchett both went online and adopted a distinctively webbish style — public yet intimate, upsetting yet consoling. But the internet is mere technology. What human desire has created the contemporary appetite for this detailed disclosure of the facts of our mortality? Not long ago such announcements would have been unthinkable. Talk of death or dying would have provoked a shudder of distaste and the speaker would have been ostracised. In the 1960s the anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer noticed that people he knew were offended by his decision to go into mourning after the death of his brother. ‘They clearly no longer had any guidance”, he wrote, ‘from ritual as to the way to treat a self-confessed mourner; and, I suspect, they were frightened lest I give way to my grief and involve them in a distasteful upsurge of emotion.’ In his 1965 book Death, Grief and Mourning in Contemporary Britain, he concluded that death had become to his generation what sex had been to the Victorians, something unspeakable: ‘The natural processes of corruption and decay have become disgusting, as disgusting as the natural processes of birth and copulation were a century go.’”

Forgiving and Remembering

Bret Simmons 2


This past week, my friend Dr. Bret Simmons celebrates his own blog milestone hitting his 5th anniversary (starting the same year as my MaldivesComplete blog). It remains the only Leadership blog that I subscribe to though (like my own blog here) the site has extended into adjacent topics like personal branding, customer service, and social media.

The piece “Forgive and Remember” he posted in September epitomizes our perspective kinship on both the topic of Leadership (and Management) and failure…

  • “Any one that needs to know about innovation understands that there is no innovation without failure. Yet even for leaders that give intellectual assent and lip service to this principle, there is often an integrity gap in the alignment of their words and their actions. Bad leaders never admit when they fail, and they make the same mistakes over and over again. Good leaders make failing a learning experience, and create the conditions where it is safe to make new and different mistakes. This healthy approach to handling failure is called forgive and remember. Forgive, so that people are willing to talk about and admit the errors that are inevitable in any human endeavour”

Leaders forgive, Managers remember.

Congratulations on your anniversary, Bret.


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