Master Failer

Master Failure

Fall down six times, get up seven.” – Chinese proverb

Chinese Year of the Monkey starts today. The dominant characteristics of people born in this year are smart, clever and intelligent. Those who will achieve mastery in their lives. And the Chinese embrace of failure is part of that journey in their traditions.

One of my favourite Chinese sayings echoing the failure embracing resilience is from the Tao Te Ching…

  • · "Bend and you will be whole.
    Curl and you will be straight.
    Keep empty and you will be filled.
    Grow old and you will be renewed


Anchored by Humility

  • If there’s an oxymoron in American life it’s ‘humble anchorman’. Cancer has given me a dose of humility. I’m much more empathetic. It’s a club I would rather to have joined, but it’s a club. People come up to me quietly on the street and say ‘Mr. Brokaw, I’m a cancer survivor too’…That’s been quite touching honestly.” – Tom Brokaw (Parade Magazine)

World Cancer Day today focuses everyone on the one of the most tragic “failures” one can face in life. Fortunately, thanks to advances in science in medicine, many diagnoses are treatable and survivable. And one of the dividends one embraces with this failure (like most) is humility as so eloquently put by NBC Tom Brokaw.

Dancing in the Blizzard

blizzard wedding pix 1


Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” – Vivian Greene

Or the snow if it’s January and the northeast. Here are some couples who don’t care if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow today.

Felicia Sam and David Nartey (above) just used the snowmageddon as a brilliant backdrop to their engagement photos – “A Couple Had Their Engagement Photos Taken In The Blizzard And They’re Incredible”. And Carmen and Kevin (below) carried on with their very white wedding – “A Couple Refused To Call Off Their Wedding Despite The Blizzard”.

Their first dance won’t wait for the storm to pass.


blizzard wedding pix 2

Pact with Failure

A “doer” and a “yes man” appear to be the opposite of failure embracers, but really they epitomise it. Embracing failure isn’t about failing every chance you get. It’s about embracing the fact that failure will likely crop up with the most interesting and useful initiatives you take in life.

My former colleague Steve shared the piece “A Manifesto of a Doer” which caught my interest since I’ve always considered myself to be pretty much of a “doer”. It was a pretty reasonable laundry list and I especially appreciate the couple of nods to embracing failure that it included…

  • 17. Say no. And say it often. As David Allen says: “You can do anything, but not everything.” Protect your time.
  • 20. Make a pact with failure early on. Respect it. But don’t fear it. If it occupies your mind whilst doing, it can top you from winning. Free your mind.

I guess if I had to write my own manifesto, would start with the following tenet…

· When asked (a) for help, or (b) to try something new, your default answer should be “yes”.

That doesn’t mean that you *always* say “yes” (see #17 in the Doers Manifesto). It just means that you assume positive and work back from there. I think the conventional default for most people is the other way around – do nothing, avoid commitment, obey inertia.

I think the reason people default to “no” is (a) fear (risk), and (b) cost. They ask “why should I expend any energy or time unless I can clearly see what’s in it for me?” All too often, this question seeks direct and immediate returns. And yet some of the biggest opportunities in life come indirectly and over an extended time period.

The “no” versus “yes” default is parodied delightfully in Jim Carrey’s comedy “Yes Man”. The transformation of Carrey’s character takes place with the evangelical guru’s exhortation – “Every time an opportunity presents itself, you will say ‘yes’.” It takes both defaults to extremes underscoring both the inherent problems with the “no” default as well as the potential problems over-DOing “yes”.

Starting with “Yes” is a radical notion for many. It echoes one of Nassim Taleb’s investment principles of “expose yourself to upside”. Sense and Serendipity.

Vintage Failure

Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947 failure


  • “The ’47 Cheval is probably the most celebrated wine of the 20th century…The ’47 Cheval is often spoken of as a benchmark wine, a yardstick against which other Bordeaux should be measured and a standard to which contemporary winemakers should aspire. But the château itself describes the ’47 as a ‘happy accident of nature,’ which it was: Born of aberrant weather and vinified under primitive conditions, it is a wine full of technical flaws that turned out delicious in spite of itself… This was the Forrest Gump of wines—clearly defective, completely charmed’.”

You’ve seen the bumper stickers “My other car is a Ferrari”. Well, my other blog is about the Maldives. And one of my recent posts featured one of the most epic stories of turning adversity not just to advantage but to acclaim.

It is the story of the 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc. A wine for sale on Fine and Rare Wines for a $100,000 (yes, count the zeros). That’s nearly $7,000 a glass or $650 a sip.  A Slate piece on the wine minces no words in the title of its story on this classic vintage “The Greatest Wine on the Planet”, but the subtitle belies its tale of embracing failure: “How the ’47 Cheval Blanc, a defective wine from an aberrant year, got so good.”

For starters, Chateau Cheval Blanc hailed from the “wrong side” of the Gironde River…

  • Cheval Blanc was omitted from the 1855 classifications, which established the five-tiered ranking system of Bordeaux’s top wines. The list was compiled on the basis of price, and in 1855 the most sought-after and expensive Bordeaux all came from the left side of the river, where Cabernet Sauvignon reigns. By contrast, Saint-Émilion and its neighboring appellation, Pomerol, were seen as viticultural backwaters, producing rustic, unremarkable wines.”

But the killer was the summer of 1947. That year was to summers what Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’s was to winters (“If I live to be 100, I’ll never forget that big snow storm a couple of years ago. The weather closed in and, well you might not believe it, but the world almost missed Christmas.”)…

  • “The weather that summer was almost Biblical in its extremity. July and August were blazing hot months, and the conditions turned downright tropical in September. By the time the harvest began, the grapes had more or less roasted on the vine, and the oppressive heat followed the fruit right into the cellar. Because wineries were not yet temperature-controlled, a number of producers experienced stuck fermentations—that is, the yeasts stopped converting the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol (yeasts, like humans, tend to wilt in excessive heat). A stuck fermentation can leave a wine with significant levels of both residual sugar and volatile acidity; enough of the latter can ruin a wine, and more than a few vats were lost to spoilage in ’47.”

The tale of the Cheval Blanc is a “mother of invention” classic (mixed in with a bit of silver-lining serendipity)…

  • “To keep the fermentation going, he decided to dump ice into the tanks, figuring a little dilution was preferable to losing his wine…But, against all odds, this hellish harvest yielded some monumental wines. Two Pomerol estates, Petrus and Lafleur, made clarets that have now achieved mythic status, and the Right Bank turned out a bevy of other gems. However, it was the ’47 Cheval—the product of a stuck fermentation, according to the château, with the corresponding vital signs (3 grams per liter of residual sugar, high volatile acidity)—that acquired the greatest renown.”

The result was a paradoxical wonder that seemed like it should have been a calamity turned out so fantastically…

  • “Its technical sheet may have read like an autopsy, but it proved to be staggeringly good…So what makes the ’47 such a singular, head-spinning creation? Desai calls it a "cuddly wild boar," a vivid metaphor that gets to the wine’s oxymoronic essence—it is a lovable beas…To [Pierre Lurton, Cheval Blanc’s current director], the ’47 Cheval is miracle juice; it is a wine that should have been destroyed by its defects but that somehow blossomed into an ageless, ethereal wonder. ‘All the faults became qualities; all of these excesses went into the service of an exceptional wine.’

Reflection on this curiosity of failure turned famous underscores how risk and fear of failure may just prevent other masterpieces from every being fermented…

  • “Is there any reason to think that producers today could emulate such a wine, and would they be wise even to try? Pierre Lurton, Cheval Blanc’s current director..[remarked that] vintners today would be loath to take the kinds of chances required to produce such a wine—too much money is at stake now. ‘They would not want the risk," he said. ‘They are too prudent.”


By the way, if you like my blogging, I would really appreciate a vote for the Maldives Complete Blog which is nominated in the UK Blog Awards (today is the last day to vote!).

Craziest Guys in the Room

Dilbert - crazy


My observation over a lifetime is that when it comes to a fight, the craziest person has a huge advantage because he’s not worried about his own losses.” – Scott Adams, “Our Moon Shot

This blog connects Leadership and Management with Embracing Failure through the common thread of embracing risk. Scott Adams’ observation above says a lot about the power of embracing failure as well as explaining the surge of success for Donald Trump in the biggest leadership contest in the world.

The thing is, as they say in poker, going all-in constantly works every time…until it doesn’t. It will be interesting to watch when and if Trump “blows up” with all his craziness. But in the meantime, he is a powerful illustration of the “loose aggressive” play and the effect it can achieve when failure is not a worry.

Resolving not to Resolve

Dilbert - positive attitude

I’m not the only one not making New Year’s Resolutions. For starters, Scott Adams’ book on embracing failure “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” includes the biting aphorism “Goals are for losers” (though one could argue that people can make resolutions to change the habits, practices and ‘systems’ in their lives without the noxious goal-setting).

FastCompany’s resolution list last year went a step further with its resolution rejectionism…

11. Don’t Listen To These Happiness Myths, And Know The Power Of Negative Thinking. This might be the only New Year’s resolution list that will tell you to not “maintain a positive mindset.” In fact, we say just the opposite: it’s beneficial to feel your emotions (all of them) and more productive to “focus on behavior, not internal states.”

They linked to the piece “5 Big Happiness Myths Debunked” by Oliver Burkeman whose embrace of “negative thinking” I’ve featured a few times here.

May your all your failures bring positive consolations in 2016.


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