FailCon is a convergence of entrepreneurs who listen to and swap war stories about starting and enduring business failures.
As the day wore on I began to feel that the word "fail" was harsh and, in any case, not quite perfect. If we talk of business failures, I ask 'must we apply the same word to ourselves'? The word "defeat" came to mind. It's still brutal. It means something crashed, hit the ground, that someone or something else came out on top, and that recovery will require great fortitude. But for me defeat feels like 'down for this round', 'down for this game', 'down for this season'. Recoverable.
Several times in my life I've felt utterly defeated over a period of years. I've thought about what giving up means. If not death, then what? Living in a remote but low-pressure location isolated from failure or the shame of failure?
First off, bad things happen everywhere.
Then I thought: let's say I do that. Let's say it's the day after I've got myself ensconced in some near-wilderness. It's not like "they" won. "They" have no idea, and if they do, my responses will be forgotten soon. Plus, some people will then be deprived of whatever value I do bring to the world even if I think it's miniscule. But most importantly, what will I do that next day? Knowing me I'd start over, complete with strategies, because that's what I do. I can't help but survive and thrive. So that means I must put up with the current misery. Shit.
I rallied. I was defeated but I had not failed. I was not entirely the weak link in the cascade of events. In fact, to always write myself off as the cause disregards my fallible humanity and larger forces around me. This is why I deeply appreciate Scott Berkun reminding us of the Fallacy of a Single Failure.
And so I may be defeated today. I do a post-mortem about what I could have done, what I should have recognized, but also noting how I might have been blindsided or inexperienced. Then I repair what I can followed by working on putting such thoughts aside. On those days I give up for the day. I accomplish as much as my sore emotions allow, consult with my inner board of directors, and then take a break. A hike, a chat with friends, a new indie film. Tomorrow I layer on more effort. I learned to take care of myself.
In one of these periods of dismay a drunk friend of a professional acquaintance told me to my face that I should give up. This guy had no idea what he was suggesting. What did he think 'give up' meant? I was later instrumental in that professional acquaintance getting a good job. Over lunch (that he bought) I asked for, and received, an apology. Who's going to tell me I have no value and that I should give up?
"Failure is only failure if you don't get back up" Ben Huh, FailCon 2012. Sounds like a defeat to me.
Personally, I think that first bracing smack in the face is exhilarating. The first day or so afterwards is precious. Not that I enjoy injury but the sharper the pain the more vividly displayed are your incorrect knowledge and assumptions. Your market has just been corrected. The new reality is here. Savor the release. I spend those sparkly moments examining every super-charged facet and feel the effects, checking on how I'm responding. However...
"Be certain that you are not suffering over your suffering." (The Book of Runes, Ralph Blum, St. Martin's Press, 1982) I read this as saying 'Save your energy for the issues, including the facts of your trauma and the crisis at hand. Don't waste energy on melodrama, languishing in your misery.' Care for emotions as you go and then also when the crisis has subsided.
I counsel suffering friends to not shove the pain of these events aside, to stay in the moment. Anguish festers and compounds itself. This is an opportunity to grow, to accept responsibility for your own maturing, to become a better person for your own happiness and the well-being of others. Well, that's what I say anyway.
"When times are good, some of your character shows. When times are bad, all your character shows." This is a "Chinese" proverb I cannot re-locate since I first spotted it in a 1979 Farmer's Almanac. This one bon mot has been a guiding light through my adult life. Message: 'Behave yourself while you deal with your issues'. Similarly, it's also best to mind your character when times are extra good.
Chip Conley, CEO of Joie de Vivre spoke of being not superhuman but a super human, the chairman of emotion and meaning. A man after my very own heart. He spoke of Maslow (whose hierarchy of needs he simplified to 'survive, succeed, transform') and Frankl, two psychologists who profoundly influenced me.
Ben Blank's (Intuit's Innovation Catalysts team) said things about recovering from professional defeat and instilling sustainable practices that I believe and promote. I particularly soaked up these gems:
It takes guts to run.
In a years-long war zone, the last real but booby-trapped shelter is afire and collapsing. Outside it's storming and freezing cold. There is no sun.
Only some critical variables are clear when need meets opportunity. A few known comforts, long poisoned and broken, are pondered and cast aside. Immediate pain and dire consequences for staying in the shelter are considered. For the desperate and strategic mind, the ill-defined future outside beckons, come what may.
Even unprepared and barely informed, the ability to act in one’s best interests fuels an immense leap of faith in one’s self.
Without vision, those mired in a perilous present cannot have faith in the future. Only a dependence on luck.
And so she did not run because she was afraid of the present. She ran because she was unafraid of the future.
A battleship turns hard-about mid-ocean. The invested vessel radically changes course over hours, days, weeks, months…years, amidst the sea, against all tides and sharks and everything, turning the rudder this way and that, catching wind and sometimes paddling. A literal spin in place, like the blade on a beanie, takes the shortest time but requires incredible skill, astute judgment, and excellent conditions. Certainty in the need for this strategy, for a fast new direction, bolsters morale in times of anxiety. Vision, again.
The alternative is to chart a long arc around: a little to the right and then a hard left for a long time, straightening out when a viable direction is achieved. But the vision might be forgotten by then, or the objective itself evolves.
If the resources are available - material, intellectual, and psychological - agility supports a positive, rapid conclusion.
Pivots are expensive, often even taking recovery time. Sacrifices may be required, re-orientation. Returning to an intact state in the new conditions depends on the original constitution of the vehicle and driver, plus advantageous support. Too fast, too hard - poorly informed - and a pivot costs everything. Pivots are brave.
Masochists. Maybe even they dream of benevolent overlords. The right mix of providing what it takes to thrive and to challenge.
I’m reminded of Mary Poppins:
"Wanted: a nanny for two adorable children."
If you want this choice position, have a cheery disposition... Rosy cheeks, no warts... Play games, all sorts. You must be kind, you must be witty, very sweet, and fairly pretty...
Take us on outings, give us treats, sing songs, bring sweets. Never be cross or cruel. Never give us castor oil or gruel. Love us as a son and daughter, and never smell of barley water.
If you won't scold and dominate us, we will never give you cause to hate us... Hurry, nanny! Many thanks! Sincerely... Jane and Michael Banks!
What is the difference between a boss and a leader?
“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting.” - Russell H. Ewing (1885-1976) British journalist
Not everyone is hip to the concept, even now.
This really happened. Silicon Valley, 2012. A team offsite is announced. It’s the manager’s hobby; an individual sport like gymnastics. The team is not asked if they want to do this or maybe something else. The manager gets in a practice session while the team risks physical injury and social embarrassment. This manager is a boss. The kicker? The outing is paid for by the employees.
Daniel Pink in his book Drive points to three key factors in motivating cognitive workers (as opposed to physical workers) toward optimal performance: autonomy, mastery, & purpose. Intrinsic motivation. It’s like an organization being user centered.
Experience researcher in high tech, healthcare, and built environments with an anthropology provenance.