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.”
Happy Birthday to Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher king of embracing failure (“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”) Alain de Botton’s “Consolations of Philosophy”, itself a pean to the embrace of failure, concludes with the final chapter examining Neiztche’s philosophy:
- “We must learn to suffer whatever we cannot avoid. Our life is composed, like the harmony of the world, of discords as well as of different tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, soft and loud. If a musician liked only some of them, what could he sing? He has got to know how to use all of them and blend them together. So too must we with good and ill, which are of one substance without our life.“
World Sight Day today is an opportunity for everyone to take notice of the gift of sight. If you need any help appreciating the miracle of sight, I highly recommend one of the best depictions of place sight holds in our life by examining the trauma that results when it fails. Despite its he documentary “Notes on Blindness”. While the majority of the film illustrates the stark tribulations of going blind, it concludes with an embrace of this ocular failure…
- · “I had said to myself that I would learn to live with blindness, but I would never accept it. Now I found that there has been a sort of change in the state of my brain. It’s as if now being denied the stimulus of the outside world, the thing is turned in upon itself to find inner resources. Occasionally, I go home in the evening an I feel as if my is almost blown with new ideas and new horizons. I find myself connecting more, remembering more, making more links in my mind between the various things I have read and learned all my life. I now feel clearer, more excited, more adventurous, more confident intellectually than I have ever felt in my life. There is so totally purging about blindness that one either is destroyed or renewed. You consciousness is evacuated. You past memories, your interests, your perception of time. Place itself. The world itself. One must re-create one’s life.”
- · “I like the word fail, I like the word failure,” he told the audience. “It’s attention grabbing, but I don’t think it’s the word we mean. ‘We all have some terrific failures in our lives … When we teach kids to fail, what we’re really talking about is ‘it’s not going to work out the way you thought’ … and that’s life, that’s art, that’s everything.” – Mythbuster Adam Savage
Distinctions are just as important in the domain of embracing failure as in leadership and management. Maybe an important distinction with “Embracing Failure” is as much about the word “Embracing” word as it is about the “Failure” word. Jacob Morgan’s vlog explores this sematic nuance of why “embracing” (good) is not “encouraging” (bad):
- · “When you talk about embracing failure…is giving some sort of structure in which failure can take place…You give them an opportunity to run with their ideas, and see what happens. And if it doesn’t work out, then, hey, then you learn from their mistakes. But that is not the same thing as just giving everybody free reign…That is actually encouraging failure. And that is actually going to lead to failure.”