Foxtrot Failure

Jeremy Vine Strictly

Goodbye Jeremy. Jeremy Vine was one of the celebrities on Strictly Come Dancing that Lori and I both rooted for and enjoyed watching. We weren’t impressed with his dancing (and it probably was time for him to go), but that didn’t detract from his gusto and personality that lit up the TV screen (perhaps surprisingly for a radio DJ). India Knight’s described it eloquently in her Sunday Times piece “Dogged Vine looks a right cha-cha-charlie but he’s danced into my heart

  • “Every week, Vine tries with all his might to master a dance, only to fail…It’s not a thing you see often in life. People don’t like being told they’re rubbish. It usually makes them cross, or defensive, or keen to blame someone else. Vine doesn’t do this. He heaps praise on his dancing partner, Karen Clifton, and graciously takes all the blame himself…His performance has (twice) made me well up slightly….And then he tried again. And fail…Vine won’t win Strictly, or come anywhere near winning. But when he leaves the show, he will do so with the goodwill of millions of strangers.”

Bravo, Jeremy.

Decade of Failure

Bruce Lynn - Failure service NSUU
[“Embracing Failure” service at Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church 27 October 2002]

  • My philosophy is that it doesn’t pay to go to a conference unless you’re prepared to be vulnerable and meet people, and it doesn’t pay to go to a Q&A session unless you’re willing to sit in the front row. Reading blogs is great, writing one is even better.” – Seth Godin

Ten years ago this weekend I started blogging. At Microsoft, I had just hired a dynamic new marketer, Allister Frost, who was (and still is) years ahead of his time. He identified this new thing of ‘blogging’ as a great way to circumvent the onerous delays and rigid constraints on posting material to the corporate website and instead have a direct conversational connection with customers. It sounded intriguing and with my background in writing (eg. founder and editor of the school page in the local paper, year working as travel writer in Togo, West Africa), he was pushing on an open door for me to give it a go.

I first tried a few experimental posts on the hot (well, in technical circles) topic of “Interoperability”, but I soon twigged that to have an authentic voice I needed to choose a subject I had more personal conviction and curiosity about. I chose to write about “risk”. In particular, two dimensions – 1. “Leadership and Management” (leaders optimise upside opportunity, manager minimise downside risk), and 2. Embracing Failure (a quite popular topic these days, but much less so when I first delved into it). A few years later I added another blog on “Dynamic Work” (flexible work concepts) which was becoming an area of expertise for me and an area I did consulting in when I left Microsoft in 2009.

It was also in that year that I launched what was to be my biggest blog – Maldives Complete. It became so packed with great material that one of the most frequently asked questions I received was, “Why do I do it?” And of course, I answered the question with the blog. In fact, a series of blog posts which highlight a number of the motivations and benefits I get from the curious pastime.

One thing is for sure…there is no shortage of material on Leadership/Management and Embracing Failure. I have posted the equivalent of over 1000 pages (typed pages not web pages) so far. But I am always clipping and collecting material not to mention the countless pieces and bits I get sent by many friends and readers. As it happens, I have another 200+ pages of notes and drafts filed away for future posts at the apropos time.

So stay tuned for another ten years and more…

A Great Day to Make a Mistake


  • Science, my lad, has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which it was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.” – Jules Verne

Today is World Science Day for Peace and Development which seems like a particular great day to make a mistake. The kind Jennifer Gresham talks about in her article “Eureka! A Cure for Perfectionism” (thanks Katie)…

  • “It is estimated that 30-50% of all scientific discoveries are to some degree accidental. I worked as a scientist with some of the best scientists in the world for over 15 years, and I’d say that number is likely a conservative one. Here’s how it happens. You go into the lab, or one of your grad students goes into the lab to do an experiment you’ve done dozens of times. You make a mistake in the procedure, and all of a sudden the results are entirely unexpected. You can’t explain them with what you know today. So you dig a little deeper and then ‘Eureka!’. That’s how discovery often happens. These moments in science are hardly ever planned or anticipated. They start with doing things a little bit differently. In fact, they often start with a mistake. And I can’t help but wonder, why don’t we do the same thing with our own lives. Why don’t we approach life with more curiosity and tolerance for the unexpected?…Why? It’s a completely uninteresting life, a life devoid of surprise, and yet it’s one we increasingly choose for ourselves.

She relates the experience of parenting her own daughter and chastising her for her mistakes (like seeing if her duckie could swim in circles by trying to flush it down the toilet). So she instituted a morning ritual of saying to each other “It’s a great day to make a mistake!”

Have a great day…to make a mistake.

Abrazando la Muerte

Day of the Dead


  • “The strange thing about death is how the hole, the echo, that a loved one leaves expands as the years pass – that is why [Seamus] Heaney is so right when he talks about that void being both ‘empty’ and a ‘source’…’Death destroys a man, the idea of death saves him.’ It’s a paradox I’ve always found comforting.” – Eleanor Mills, “Be not afraid, we can handle death

Today is Mexico’s second day celebrating “Día de Muertos” – “Day of the Dead”. It melds both the Spanish / Catholic tradition of the All Saints Day (honouring Saints in Heaven) with the indigenous Aztec celebration of the goddess Mictecacihuatl (goddess of the afterlife). It is an extended celebration to honour deceased loved ones (1st November is for honouring children and the 2nd November is for honouring adults).

Much like the Halloween that precedes it (“Hallowed Eve”), it embraces death by donning the garments and appearances of death’s guises. Not to honour or praise death itself, but to bear hug it with a rebellious swagger that says ‘we are not going to let death scare us nor take our loved ones fully away, but we will respect its inevitability and power over our destiny.’

And like Halloween, the grotesque and decrepit of death’s decay (especially skeletons) are the de rigeur look. And maybe as the piece “Person Asks Online For Advice On How To Deal With Grief” describes, such grotesque stage makeup scars and gouges can themselves be a testimonial to the wounds of loss…

  • “I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a whole right through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to ‘not matter’. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even be gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is strong that the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life.”

Zombie Facts

Zombie Facts


  • Zombie facts that refuse to die, no matter how much hard evidence is used to bury them. There’s no shortage of them: water always gurgles down plug-holes anticlockwise north of the equator; the sky is blue because it’s a reflection of the sea; scientists can’t explain how bees fly. None of these are true…The myths persist. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that these ‘zombie facts’ often contain a grain of truth…Even the scientific community has been known to peddle zombie facts. That the current explanation of mental disorders like depression.” – Focus magazine, “Zombie Facts”

Maybe the Zombie apocalypse IS upon us. No, not Halloween or even the Republican primary. But the incessant assault of “zombie facts”. Just when some myth seems to be debunked, two more horrific memes seem to get posted to Facebook.

Some people blame technology. But I’ve always felt that technology was a level playing field between good and evil just intensifying the battle. Every innovation that can be used for bad pretty much always also has an application that counters that abuse. For every Photoshopper and hysteria rousing website, there are Snopes, Wikipedia, Politifact and the like to be the two-barrel shotguns to these zombie facts. Mind you the intensification means that there is no place for idleness. Like a good B-movie, the zombie facts keep coming.

You might think it is a battle between insight and ignorance. But Daniel W. Drezner’s piece “The Uses of Being Wrong” (thanks Chris) highlights the strength of the zombie throngs in the ivory towers of high educated academia…

  • The persistence of so-called "zombie ideas" is something of a problem in the social sciences…Why is it so hard for scholars to admit when they are wrong? It is not necessarily concern for one’s reputation. Even predictions that turn out to be wrong can be intellectually profitable—… Part of the reason is simple psychology; we all like being right much more than being wrong.”

So in many cases, we are not fighting intellects, but egos in the zombie fact crusade.

As a Halloween treat, I’ll fire off a few rounds from my debunking 12-gauge with my top ten favourite monstrous myths were featured in Buzzfeed’s post “You’ve Been Told Lies”…

  1. 1The concept of the sugar rush is a myth. The hyperactivity you feel after ingesting sugar is just a placebo.
  2. It’s not actually harmful to pick up baby birds and return them to their nests, and it will not cause their mother to reject them.
  3. The color orange is named after the fruit, not the other way around.
  4. People think penguins mate for life. They don’t.
  5. The story about NASA developing a space pen whilst the Russians used a pencil is untrue. NASA also used pencils.
  6. It’s not true that people only use 10% of their brains.
  7. Swimming within an hour of eating doesn’t actually lead to cramps or drowning.
  8. Humans didn’t evolve from apes. We share a common ancestor.
  9. Bats are not blind.
  10. The Coriolis effect does not actually make water rotate in different directions while flushing toilets and draining bathtubs.

Moon Shots and Missile Crises


Today marked the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis for JFK – both an extension of one of his biggest failures and ultimately one of his biggest foreign policy triumphs. His earlier Bay of Pigs fiasco was the product of listening to military advisors who assured him of easy success. And he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice when similarly (if not more) eager hawks encouraged him to directly invade Cuba to rid it of the Russian missiles.

A hero in the pantheon of US Presidents despite a tragically truncated administration, Kennedy was one of those rare executives who could both Lead and Manage with distinction. His famous ‘man on the moon’ speech/vision/challenge is the archetype (if not now cliché) for big, bold Leadership visions and aspiration.

But his ultimate triumph in Cuba is extraordinary not for what happened (the upside of getting Cuba rid of the missiles), but what didn’t (the downside of nuclear conflagration…in fact not a single shot was fired).

Coded for Error

If I had my life to live over, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.” – If I Had My Life to Live Over” by Nadine Stair

Fond farewell to Rev. Patrick O’Neill, the minister at our Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel for the past several years who conducted his final service yesterday. He is considered one of the finest speakers in the denomination and has left a bounty of inspired insight. Fortunately, the chapel has shared many of his talks in both written and recorded formats.

Of course, my favourite are his own takes on embracing failure. I myself have spoken on the topic (twice when the chapel was waiting for Patrick to come in as the new minister) at Rosslyn Hill Chapel. He recently added a fine one titled “Coded for Error” (excerpts)…

  • “Marcus Tulius Cicero’s essays on old age. His 6 ‘Perennial Mistakes of Humanity’…Mistake #2 on Cicero’s list, ‘The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.’…Thus it is to be human, we are mistake makers by nature and by stubborn habit of spirit.
  • The Bard had it right: ‘To err is human’. One way to describe our species is to say that we are the mistake makers of the universe…We learn by ‘trial and error’, not by ‘trial and rightness’ or ‘trial and triumph’…Progress requires error. Eventually, we put our hands on enough hot stoves until we figure it out.”
  • “Benjamin Hooks once put it, ‘The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching our goals. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled. It’s a calamity never to dream. It’s not a disaster to not capture your ideal. It’s a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It’s not a disgrace to reach for the stars and fail. It’s a disgrace never to try. Failure is no sin. Low aim is the sin.”
  • Aware as we are of our human imperfection. Understanding as we do the limitations of our fallible and all too mortal nature, we are all of us here trekking along the best we can seeking to fill in the holes in our lives with as much understanding and knowledge and love as we can accumulate, as we can share, as we can give back to each other.”
  • “In the high achiever society, where many of us spend our days, there is a kind of tyrannical if delusional self-imposed perfectionism that drives a lot of people. The price of super-achievement means for a lot of people that they neither tolerate nor make room for even the smallest mistakes in their lives or in the lives of those they claim to love. Such perfectionism would be laughable if it were not so deadly to one’s self-esteem, to one’s relationship to a partner, to one’s children, to one’s joy in living.”
  • Islam has a saying that ‘Perfection belongs only to God.’ In observance of that maxim, in ancient Persia, where rug weaving reached its highest art form weavers routinely wove a single, intentional flaw into every rug as a reminder that perfection is Allah’s alone. European sculptors of the Renaissance era often intentionally chiselled a tiny chip into beautiful works of art for the same reasons.”

Thank you Patrick for your legacy of blessed imperfection.


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