- “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” – Lao Tzu
The arbitrary resetting of the calendar counter is as good an excuse as any to take stock and take new directions. Hence the tradition of New Years’ resolutions. They are often about focusing on parts of our lives that we consider failures – fitness, discipline, personal development.
Seth would describe such a step as a variation on the “Fail Forward” theme – Bounce forward:
- “When we hit an obstacle, sometimes the best we can hope for is to bounce back. To recover, to get through this and get back to normal. But when our project hits a snag, perhaps we can consider using the moment to bounce forward instead. Being on the alert for opportunities, not merely repairs. If we’re spending our time and effort focusing on a return to normal, sometimes we miss the opportunity that’s right in front of us. Bouncing forward means an even better path, not merely the one we were on in the first place.”
Whatever your 2019 failures were, may you bounce into 2020!
Written by American-born British screenwriter and author David Wolstencroft, he is best known as the creator of the BAFTA award-winning TV spy drama Spooks. Here are a few teaser excerpts:
- “All work, and all life exist within an imperfect space. Showrunning a drama series means Embracing the Imperfect as a way of life. Do the best with what you have.”
- “The blunt truth about shows is that they are written three times over…where Murphy’s Law and life apply: you never have enough time, money, weather or healthy enough immune response to get where you’d love to go. Thirdly, you edit what you managed to salvage from the vagaries of production schedules to sew together a fully-operational story that moves, inspires, and excites.”
- “It’s often better to work with less than more. Too much choice makes you lazy. Too many options freeze the brain.”
That sentiment of embracing failure in artistic production is was echoed by another perspective shared by Hugh from Frank Zappa describing the culture of embracing failure by record producers in the sixties:
- “One thing that did happen during the sixties was some music of an unusual or experimental nature did get recorded and did get released. Now look at who the executives were at those companies at those times. Not hip young guys. These were cigar chomping old guys who looked at the product that came and said, ‘I don’t know. Who knows what it is?? Record it, stick it out. If it sells, alright’.”
Someone who took the failure to overcome his southern country accent of Austria as his break break to become one of the top film stars in the world is Arnold Schwarzenegger as he recently recounted on Graham Norton (7 minutes in):
- “Before then I did ‘Conan the Barbarian’. And the fear that I had was ‘was I going to be stuck in those kind of movies, Hercules movies and muscle movies?’. Or can I cross over and become an action star. With ‘Terminator’, that’s why I feel very passionate about the project and about the franchise because it really helped me to break out of that…When I wanted to become a leading man in Hollywood…they said ‘forget about it, Arnold. We like you when we open up a health food store or something like that. But you can never become a leading man because you have an accent.’ And then someone else would say, ‘You have too big of a body. It would never work.’ ‘Terminator’ was one of those movies where Jim Cameron, during the promotion tour, said, if Schwarzenegger wouldn’t have had those muscles and if Schwazenegger wouldn’t have had this accent, to talk like a machine, it wouldn’t have worked. So I said to myself, ‘Yes! Finally I made this liability an asset’.”
The Country Music Awards last night celebrated the best of country of the past year, and for many years its folksy ballads have featured many a paean to failure and other troubles, but few as embracing as Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue”.
“He said, ‘Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got the right
To kill me now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do.
But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
Cause I’m the son of a bitch that named you ‘Sue’."
Happy Halloween! Looking for a really scary costume? Go dressed as an anti-Vaxer. The intellectual zombies for whom scary viral memes and rhetoric have eaten their brains putting all society at risk from the horrors of diseases long ago relegated to the graveyard of infectious epidemics. Their rise from the dead is another Dark Ages plague (as foretold of the as the graphic above illustrates). Be afraid, be very afraid.
Spring ahead and fall back. But I would propose that the Leadership and Management version with a nod to embracing failure would be “Feed Back, Fail Forward.”
“Feed Back” is its own form of embracing failure by seeking out criticism for ongoing improvement especially important for leaders as described by Hugh MacLeod:
- “’You’re wrong.’ Great leaders take counsel from trusted sources. They solicit advice because they know that the best feedback is the kind that challenges what we think we already know. ‘You’re wrong.’ Maybe you are wrong. Maybe you find out you still think you’re right. But maybe you come away from the discussion with a new insight. You don’t get that when you surround yourself with your own cheering section. Great leaders seek out their critics.”
“Fail Forward” is term popularized by leadership maven John Maxwell in his book of the same name:
- “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure. Nothing else has the same kind of impact on people’s ability to achieve and accomplish whatever their minds and hearts desire.”
- · “I’d rather have a life filled with “oh wells” than a life filled with ‘what ifs’.” – Unknown
Embracing failure has always had rather Zen overtones and they are vividly articulated by Zen writer Alan Watts in this illustrated rather brutal portrayal of ladder climbing dreams of success…
Scott Adams has an even more cutting perspective on the futility of the rat race:
- · “Suppose you put the following proposition to two talented young people: You can be a CEO someday, but the price is that you will have two failed marriages and you will barely know your own kids. You will fire dozens or even hundreds of people over your lifetime. Your success will come at the direct expense of others. And your pay will have more to do with your weasel skills at manipulating the board of directors than the long term health of the company. You will move several times, to the distress of your family and friends. On the plus side, you will be rich and respected. What kind of young person takes that deal? Is it the person with good mental health who wants a life of balance and meaning, or is it the risk-taking, narcissistic sociopath? We all want the good parts of being a CEO, especially the money and respect, but we could do without the mental illness. Unfortunately, if you want the top job, you’re competing against risk-taking, narcissistic sociopaths who are just as smart and hardworking as you are. Some of them will self-destruct, but like the zombie apocalypse there will always be another coming at you. In the long run, the crazies always run the show. I’m the CEO of my own company now (the Dilbert business), and that required me to work a ten year stretch, for about twelve hours a day, without a day off. Does that sound like good mental health to you? And had I stayed in the corporate world, I would have employed all of my mental dysfunctions toward clawing my way into the executive suite. I’m not too proud to admit I probably have just the right mixture of mental problems to pull that off.”