Not that I would wish a pandemic on anyone much less the entire world, in the spirit of embracing failure, it does turn out that the silver linings to the ordeal have been numerous. With the UK government declaring an end (well sort of) to the pandemic, we were reflecting on the overall impact of the past 18 months:
- Grief – Friends lost to the affliction and many more who suffered considerably.
- Social – Missing friends and family including 6 months not seeing the kids.
- Fitness – Rowing, basketball, ballroom dancing, golf all eliminated.
- Travel – Paralympics, Easter in Italy, skiing all cancelled.
- Couple Time – Always precious in our busy lives.
- Films – Got to see hundreds of movies we’ve always wanted to see.
- Lori’s Career – Time to build her business and the shift to tele-treatment gave her more capacity (as opposed to an exhausting commute).
- Projects – Backburner DIY, organisation and creative activities finally gotten around to.
- Remote Working Shift – The new normal favours our lifestyle and workstyle (cf. Dynamic Work UK)
- Home Cooking – More time and effort to produce interesting home meals expanding our skills and repertoire.
- Other Contagious Diseases Reduced – No colds, flu all year.
- Politics – The virus, which is immune to propaganda, exposed the incompetence of the Trump administration freeing the world of that problem.
- Financial – Impaired ability to network, but new roles came to both of us and our cost of living dropped (less commute, travel, dining out, shopping)
Now in reality, it is not the pandemic that had the silver lining, but the lockdown. The lockdown was some seriously hard to swallow medicine for this global malady. From that perspective, the very first upside was that the lockdown saved lives. But the process of stopping activity and halting standard routines and practices did spin-out these dividends which can start to compensate for the hardships suffered and costs borne.
The title of this blog is “Turning Adversity to Advantage”. the pandemic is the most profound adversity to affect the post-war generations. So lets appreciate whatever advantages we can salvage from this ordeal.
South Korea’s National Day today is the inspiration for another look at cultural attitudes to failure. Korea has traditionally shunned it, but is looking to turn to more of an embrace as described in thie Korea Times article, “Embracing failure vital to foster fintech growth”:
- · “Experts said one of the biggest reasons Korean players lag behind in the global market is that the government’s approach to new initiatives and regulatory environment not conducive to newcomers, and help is given to prevent small companies from failing, rather than letting them learn from and survive failure. More specifically, the Korea’s current regulatory framework, known as ‘positive system,’ bans everything except for what is allowed, but calls have grown for the system to be changed toward ‘negative system’ so that everything is allowed with the exception of what is banned. The latter framework grants more liberty to players. They explained that under the current system, it is difficult to create innovative and disruptive new services as the regulations and licensing requirements tend to protect existing financial services companies and focus on helping new players avoid failures…For innovation to take place, an environment that enables failures and enables players to learn from such failures is necessary, but Korea has not provided such an environment.”
Another measure being taken is the “Don’t Worry Village” and the “Fail Expo” described Isabella Steger and Sookyoung Lee’s article “South Korea’s success-obsessed culture is finally reckoning with its dark side”:
- · “Don’t Worry Village, a retreat of sorts for young adults figuring out their next steps. The house is the brainchild of 33-year-old Hong Dong-woo, who, after making money from a scooter startup, wanted to open a place where young Koreans could turn for a break from societal pressure…Hong calls it a place where Koreans can go for ‘a chance at trying again.’ Park, who previously studied at a vocational college and now dreams of going back to school and becoming a music producer, says many young Koreans are made to feel that ‘failing once means that your whole life is a failure.’ The idea of embracing failure is gaining traction in a country that’s starting to take stock of the effects on a population conditioned to live under immense pressure to succeed, starting from childhood. The pressure can come in many forms, including economic, academic, familial, and cosmetic. While the hunger for success propelled Korea to develop in the post-war decades into the economic powerhouse it is today, it’s a formula that many Koreans, particularly the young, feel no longer delivers. That has given rise to popular narratives in recent years depicting the country as a kind of hellscape. The government has taken note of those concerns. Last year, it held the first ever Fail Expo in Seoul—inspired by both the International Day of Failure, which was created in Finland in 2010, and the Museum of Failure in Sweden, which opened in 2017—with the aim of changing public attitudes toward failure and success. President Moon Jae-in, who is an advocate of taking life at a slower pace, visited last year’s expo (link in Korean) and acknowledged the hardships facing small business owners and young jobseekers. ‘Let’s all get through this hard time together,’ he wrote on a message board. The second Seoul expo opened in September with the theme #FailBetter. In another context, the slogan could be read as aspirational. But in Korea, where conditions for young people remain challenging, it might be interpreted as an impatient command.”
Work smart not harder. Or be lazy. Especially today which is official “Lazy Day”. Dilbert has penned a few gems heralding the upsides of lazing down always portrayed by the patron saint of laziness, Wally.
Not “f*cked up night” nor “f*ck nights”, but “F*ck-Up Nights” Their website lists 321 cities in 90 countries holding the confessionals in a spirit of positivity if not celebration.
Sometimes the “agony of defeat” (as ABC’s “Wide World of Sport” used to refer to it in their intro), stings a bit less when exemplary sportsmanship is the cause. Today is the final day of competition for Archery at the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo.
Semi-final competition in Portugal, Sergio Garrido had a 3 point lead going into the final round when he suffered an equipment failure. With zero points for his “miss”, any target hit would have won it for for his opponent Alves. Instead, Alves chose not to shoot, giving himself a miss and Garrido the win.
Embracing failure bullseye.
Happy Birthday Costco (founded 45 years ago today). In an age of retail billionaires flinging their fortunes into space, it’s refreshing to see a thriving enterprise whose success is grounded on embracing what should be the death knell of any ordinary business:
- “Its membership fee should make acquiring new customers fatally difficult. Instead, it creates loyal deep pocketed patrons who praise the company for its free samples, generous return policy, and of course, low prices. Its cost-saving warehouse layout should confuse and annoy shoppers. Instead, it makes them feel like deal hunters.”
- “In an era of overvalued start-ups, reckless desire for growth, and questionable business practices, Costco is something else entirely – refreshingly boring.”
- “That’s the genius of Costco. It turns nearly every seeming obstacle into a competitive advantage.”
If life gives you lemons, then make lemonade. If the hard way ahead gives you potholes, then make some electricity to power your car. That’s the principle behind Audi’s new energy capture innovation”
- “This is all accomplished by having a lever arm absorbing the motion of the wheel carrier, which is then transmitted to an electric motor via a series of gears. The electric motor then transforms this into electricity. On average, this system is able to pump out 100 to 150 watts. That varies depending on road condition. For example, a newly paved highway will generate as little as 3 watts, and a rough country road as much as 613 watts. According to Audi, this would translate to CO² savings of up to three grams per kilometer (4.8 g/mi). But this system doesn’t just store energy from potholes. eROT also makes your drive better. The system allows the dampers to adapt to the road conditions and the driver’s driving style.”
Most people examine the embrace of failure from the post-failure perspective. Shit happened, so find the silver lining. But actually, it is as important (if not more so) to focus on making “shit happen”. What Seth Godin recently referred to as the “hard way”:
- “That’s how we learn most of the foundational things that we know, remember and care about–not through exposure, but through effort and failure. That’s why tests aren’t nearly as useful as projects. Just about anything worth learning is worth learning the hard way.” – Seth Godin, “Lessons Learned the Hard Way”
Godin’s post reminded me of Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken”. The road “less travelled by/ And that has made all the difference” (see below).
In this context, the “failure” or downside I am referring to might more accurately be described as embracing “difficulty”. I remember that I took what was reputed to be one of the hardest classes at Harvard my freshman year – Harvey Mansfield’s notorious Gov 10. I got the lowest grade of my college career in it which didn’t help my grade point average, but I I was please to have taken it it nonetheless. For starters, the rigour did force me to learn a whole lot of stuff. Second, Mansfield was a brilliant professor and I learned many things from his lectures (the price of which was enduring the workload he imposed). But the meta lesson for me was learning what the boundary point was for scholastic challenge at this intimidating institution. Once I had survived that ordeal, I had the confidence that I could survive anything in my years ahead.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- “World’s shortest IQ test: ‘What percentage of your reality do you understand?’ Grading: The higher the percentage the lower the IQ.” – Scott Adams
What I know I don’t know makes me smarter.
- “Intelligence is accurately knowing how dumb you are.” – Jake Weisman
Base your questions on outliers, not your answers.
- “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” – Richard Feynman
Resilience of insight is the most important resilience of all.
- “Just as the health of an immune system can be measured by its ability to resist microbial challenge, the health of a mind can be measured by its ability to live with doubt and uncertainty. Weak minds are attracted to conspiracy theories for the same reason that the immuno-compromised are attracted to sterile rooms.” – John Faithful Hammer
- Simon: I’m a miracle you know.
- Joe: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
The bigger they are the harder they fall, so the smaller they are…
Fewer people embrace their impairment with everything from equanimity to downright enthusiasm as the titular character in the film “Simon Birch”. Simon leans into his ‘’shortcoming’ with humour, stoicism, conviction and frustration. His heroism does not come as a result of him overcoming his handicap, but instead by exploiting it. Not in spite of it, but because of it.