Cherish Your Failures by Ben Taylor

Failures suck! I hate them, they can depress, discourage, and ruin your day, if not your year. I have however slowly grown to embrace failure and I now cherish those experiences. They make me better. They make me wiser. I refuse to waste my failure tuition.

SURVIVAL:

"That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." 

This statement by the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, is true for so many reasons. There are mistakes that we truly can't afford to make because they have unrecoverable consequences. Like hanging out in a pool with a floating power strip... DON'T DO IT!

 

There are many of these deadly mistakes within a career, especially when it comes to ethics. Plagiarism, theft, dishonesty, illegal behavior, these are not mistakes you can make. I am talking about the more common mistakes we all deal with:  

OVER-PROMISING:

Over promising on a result, a deliverable, a timeline. There are always pressures to estimate a timeline sooner, a result higher, or broaden the scope on a deliverable to please the stakeholder. We want to impress, we want to show our worth, but when we over-promise we risk failing. Over-promising can have minor consequences, such as the result of a sprint commit lost [programming], coming up short on a sales quota the first quarter of the year [sales]. Over-promising can also have seemingly devastating results: loss of a customer, a job, public relations, company embarrassment, and future trust. It all depends on what is at stake. The heavier the consequence the more memorable the learning experience.

 

I have a 15 month old, he knows a hand full of words. One of the words he mentions most often is the word "Hot!!". Has he been burned? Yes! Am I happy about this? YES!!! This is great! The reason I am genuinely pleased with this, is his respect for conductive heat transfer is finally appropriate. He is much less likely now to get a second or third degree burn when I open the oven or when he plays by the fireplace. This respect would not have been possible if it were not for the first degree burn he experienced and decided not to repeat. Likewise, in business I want people I work with to have appropriate respect for the consequences of their mistakes.

RELIABILITY:

Ever slept through an alarm before? It sucks. Does it happen? Sure. Does it happen regularly? If it does you should be fired, I hope your boss is reading this. I started my career in semiconductor manufacturing where being late was not an option. Sure, life happens, power goes out, your alarm clock implodes, you get temporarily abducted by aliens etc... I'm not saying everyone has to have multiple layers of redundancy to ensure they are reliable, but what I am saying is every time you slip on reliability you should have a personal action item to fix future occurrences. When the reliability consequences are low: "It's cool", "No worries!" it doesn't really matter. When the reliability consequences are high: "YOU lost us that critical prospect!", "You missed the board meeting?! WTF!?..." you better believe missing a high consequence action will haunt you, as it should. 

DEAD-ENDS:

Sometimes we will sink a considerable amount of work on a fantastic idea. We are convinced this is the right approach, the right algorithm, the right product, the right vision only to have all of the hard work and $$ uprooted and thrown away at the end. This can be caused by lots of things, bad planning, bad scoping, bad execution, bad customer validation. Consequences? There always are. Spending time on X prevented you from spending time on Y. With hindsight you can see the consequences more clearly. Sometimes we don't know something is a bad idea until we really explore it. Sometimes you are the first explorer in your space and you have no choice but to try a potential path. Sometimes the pain of hiking back out of a mistake discourages us so we persevere from failure to epic disaster (i.e. company folding, loss of job). 

One take away from this failure is hindsight reflection on faster pivot detection. I am a huge fan of failing quickly. I don't care how "hacky" your MVP is, I don't care if it even works, I just care that you were able to find your pivot point that much sooner. 

ATROPHY:

If you aren't failing you aren't trying. If you aren't trying your value to the business has stalled. I'd compare these types of people to the sumo wrestler on the left. They have a toxic reality distortion. They think they are a rockstars, they always know what to do, and yet in the true marketplace they are falling behind. 

 

If you aren't hitting snags in your workflow, dead-ends, pivot points what are you doing? What are you learning? Taking the easy path, I see, that sounds competitive.

I had someone vent to me about how they were wasting time in a dead-end job. They felt like the job was dysfunctional, and if anything their personal career had digressed because of it. I pointed out that the dysfunction, though discouraging, had real value. The negative experiences, the failures and frustrations, all of these made this individual wiser. They just needed a change in perspective. I have had some very negative experiences in my career that I would never repeat again, but I cherish the memory and knowledge gained from them. 

Please comment about any common failures you experience/see. Also, thoughts and feedback always appreciated since I really don't have time to do these posts. Thanks