Best Year of Failure Ever

New Year Barbe Papa
[celebrating New Years 2016 in south of France with friends and Papa’s pink beard]

Well 2015 was a complete and utter failure. But I must say, it was probably the best year of my life.

I wrote down my life of personal and professional aspirations last January…

  1. Sell our house
  2. Achieve some fitness benchmarks (eg. the elusive 300 lb. benchpress)
  3. Grow my Red Bee business to a certain target
  4. Get funding for my new venture
  5. Hit some milestone numbers for the reach of this blog and my Maldives website

How did I do?…

  1. Nope
  2. Nope
  3. Left Red Bee entirely
  4. Nope
  5. Not quite

So why was it such an amazing year? Because the best bits I couldn’t have planned for.

  1. House – Stronger interest coming in confirming a good idea to wait it out for a good buyer and stronger market and stronger price.
  2. Fitness – I might have missed the weight lifting (measurable) benchmarks, but my rowing and basketball is stronger than it has been in years, and ballroom dancing has progressed hugely this year. And I’ve added a new fitness regime of regular yoga with Lori.
  3. Business – Instead of stay in situ and growing the business, I took advantage of a very attractive offer to hand-over the business.
  4. Venture – The new prospects are more attractive than the initial ones have ever been.
  5. Digital – The Maldives site has been transformed with the addition of the Dive Site Database, the “Beauty Base”, posts up to a regular daily frequency as well as the long overdue migration onto state-of-the art blogging and interactive platforms.

In short, the best stuff was not goaled, not planned for, barely even envisioned. And the gold-dust lessons from these New Years Failures?

  • Be Patient – That’s led to better than anticipated prospects for house, finances and career.
  • Savour Serendipity – Too many people ignore or shun unexpected opportunities because they are not “part of the plan”. Look at every opportunity at face value regardless of the “plan”.

May your failures in 2016 turn out to be even better than some of your successes.

Aggregated Diffusion Fallacy: The Opposite of Synergy

Hours watching Gangham style

Three years ago today, a quirky KPop video came closer to breaking the Internet than any Kardashian selfie or cat mashup by being the first to break the billion view milestone – Gangam Style (2,374,140,084 served and counting). It has grown into one of those touchstones of monstrosity like elephants and double-deckers buses (as in “the Space Shuttle weighs as much as X double-decker buses”). The Economist did a light-hearted piece on the sheer scale of Gangham viewing using other classic benchmarks of human endeavour (see above).

“Synergy” has become a hackneyed buzzword for essentially modern business magic – “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” (voila!). Not surprisingly, it has become popular board-room magic potion in hockey-stick strategic plans by conjuring executives
Less celebrated is synergy’s antonym. The
Atlantic Forum had a good thread about just the appropriate name for such a thing – eg. antinergy, dysergy, lessergy, unergy, obsergy. My favourite is “antergy” (with the parallels to the words “synonym” and “antonym”). Every good buzzword also needs a TLA-ready academic-sounding name. I call it “Aggregated Diffusion Fallacy” (ADF). . With my focus on scepticism (ie. failure of prevailing wisdom), I often explore failure’s cousin – the fallacy.
But what is the “opposite of synergy”. Quite simply – “the whole is LESS than the sum of its parts”. This dynamic imposes itself inconveniently into more business cases than people care to admit.

One might think that “antergy” is nothing worthy of attention. One might assume that it’s just poor execution or weak management of the component parts. But I find that it creeps into large number of misguided and miscalculated business cases. In short, thinking something is bigger than it is through the addition of myriad of small parts. The fallacy is very seductive because it employs the language of small inputs with the outputs of large results.

I first encountered the ADF problem working for the US Postal Service’s automation initiative in the 1980s. So many small productivity enhancements were advocated on the premise that they would save a postal worker, let’s say, 5 minutes a day. When you took into account the hundreds of thousands of workers, one quickly came up with million dollar savings. The fact was that there was no way to realise these “savings”. You couldn’t layoff 1 out of every 50 workers and hope the rest would chip in with their 5 minute windfalls. You couldn’t change the work day to be 7 hours and 55 minutes and pay proportionately less. What tended to happen, in fact, was that the workers just got a windfall of 5 minutes less work and more break each day.

Other examples of Aggregated Diffusion Fallacy include…

  • Solar Power – “The amount of solar energy that falls on the earth’s surface in 40 minutes equals the total annual energy consumption of all the world’s people.” – Texas Solar Energy Society
  • Ocean Gold – “[There is enough gold in the ocean] for every person on earth to have nearly nine pounds each.” – Gold Rush Nuggets
  • Internet activity – “Had people not been watching PSY—the South Korean pop star who released the [Gangham Style] song in July 2012— they could have built more than four Great Pyramids of Giza, or another Wikipedia, or six Burj Khalifas in Dubai (the world’s tallest building).” [see graphic above]

So why aren’t all our energy needs sorted while we laden ourselves with gold bling? Why don’t we take Gangham Style off the web and use the savings to build some pyramids? Some of the reasons for these dis-economies of scale are concepts familiar to any business school graduate such as the Aggregation Problem and Diseconomies of Scale. Some more specific drivers include…

  • Transaction Cost – Getting the resources required both prepped and located to a condition and position where it can be used.
  • Complexity Overhead – Complexity often grows geometrically with each new element adding many new permutations.
  • Apples and Oranges – Not all resources are created the same. “Money” is not just “money” (there are different “types” of “money”…for starters, whether the value sits on a P&L or a Balance Sheet). Even, “time” is different (as Einstein famously illustrated, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.”). In economic vernacular, not all resources are fully fungible (fancy word for “interchangeable”, but more fun to say).

Be wary of big claims based on aggregations of small things. It is a very popular device for the “Petty Preservationist”. People who advocate tiny token gestures to “save the planet”. The two most common are the crusades against plastic shopping bags and plastic water bottles. Using ADF, the campaigners produce an apparently gigantic number indicating the waste. The logic then proceeds “for a small act, one gets a big result”. What’s not to like? For starters, it preys on the innumeracy of the general public who don’t easily handle big numbers. Secondly, it saps political will for serious changes as people feel their small gesture has done enough and ticked the box (“Why should I conserve on gasoline when I am already saving the planet by not using bottled water?”).

“Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish”, that’s ADF.

Embracing Para

Many adaptive sports apply technology to allow disabled athletes to enjoy a range of sports. But “embracing para”, means that an able-bodied might just want try a hand at the adaptive sports.

The advert from Guinness above doesn’t play on the heartstrings of friendship with a contrived scenario, but actually reflects a sport where able and disabled play together – wheelchair basketball. One of the para-rowers I coach also plays wheelchair basketball and tells me a number of able bodied players join in. He’s invited me to come a give it a try.

Not only is the sport itself intriguing to a basketball player like myself (playing since I was 11 years old and now one of the most veteran active players in the UK’s Wessex League). At my age, I am increasing fighting the inexorable wear and tear on the body. If I get to the point where my mid-aged legs can’t support the stresses of running up and down court and battling big men underneath the hoop, wheelchair basketball could be a fun next chapter to my hoops career.

Taking the Piss

International Day of Persons with Disability today. And the latest person I’ve come across who has embraced his obstacles is Lee Ridley. He has been featured on the BBC, the Edinburgh Festival and the UK comedy circuit. Quite a successful pedigree for a stand-up comedian…who can’t talk

  • “I mostly concentrate on my disability and the funny side of it. I enjoy taking the piss out of myself. I realise that this may make some people feel awkward, but I feel it helps me. Because I base it on myself, I get away with it more.”

Best Gift Ever

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and now first day of Advent. Gift buying and giving is front and centre of everyone’s mind. And while you are making your lists and checking them twice, spare a thought that sometimes “failure” is a “gift” itself. As Stacey Kramer so eloquently describes in her TED talk “
The best gift I ever survived” which recounts her own gift of adversity…

  • Imagine, if you will — a gift. I’d like for you to picture it in your mind. It’s not too big — about the size of a golf ball. So envision what it looks like all wrapped up. But before I show you what’s inside, I will tell you, it’s going to do incredible things for you. It will bring all of your family together. You will feel loved and appreciated like never before and reconnect with friends and acquaintances you haven’t heard from in years. Adoration and admiration will overwhelm you. It will recalibrate what’s most important in your life.”

Singing and Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the rain - Failure

  • Life is unfair, but that’s a good thing. If it were fair, things would go even worse for you.” – Tweet of God

The “learning to dance in the rain” is an oft repeated adage, but Seth Godin brings the notion to life and pushes it to the edge in his post – Kicking and screaming (vs. singing and dancing) …

  • “Unfair things happen. You might be diagnosed with a disease, demoted for a mistake you didn’t make, convicted of a crime you didn’t commit. The ref might make a bad call, an agreement might be abrogated, a partner might let you down. Our instinct is to fight these unfairnesses, to succumb if there’s no choice, but to go down kicking and screaming. We want to make it clear that we won’t accept injustice easily, we want to teach the system a lesson, we want them to know that we’re not a pushover. But will it change the situation? Will the diagnosis be changed, the outcome of the call be any different? What if, instead, we went at it singing and dancing? What if we walked into our four-year prison sentence determined to learn more, do more and contribute more than anyone had ever dreamed? What if we saw the derailment of one path as the opportunity to grow or to invent or to find another path? This is incredibly difficult work, but it seems far better than the alternative.”

Feel the Rain

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.


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