Archive for April, 2012

The Forbidden Fruit of Failure

We’ve mapped failure to the wrong words. And this mis-mapping is so strong and deep that un-mapping seems unlikely. I propose failure, as a word, be scratched from the dictionary.

Failure is learning in the form of experiments (including the thought kind) with outcomes different than theorized, where the outcomes create a more complete understanding of theory, or learning.

Wrong is mapped to failure, but failure should be mapped with – different than our best understanding.

Newness is mapped to failure. Replace failure with learning and the mapping is right – more newness, more learning. This is why tolerance of failure (and newness) is a must – no newness, no failure, no learning.

Risk is mapped to failure. Replace failure with learning and the mapping is right – more risk, more learning. Risk cannot be forbidden, if we’re to learn.

Risk and newness are mapped to late, and, guilt by association, failure is mapped to late. Replace failure with learning and the mapping is right – learn fast to avoid being late. And now, after several paragraphs of un-mapping, hopefully the re-substitution makes sense – fail fast to avoid being late.

Failure isn’t failure, failure is learning.

Creativity’s Mission Impossible

Whether it’s a top-down initiative or a bottom-up revolution, your choice will make or break it.

When you have the inspiration for a bottom-up revolution, you must be brave enough to engage your curiosity without self-dismissing. You’ll feel the automatic urge to self-reject – that will never work, too crazy, too silly, too loony – but you must resist. (Automatic self-rejection is the embodiment of your fear of failure.) At all costs you must preserve the possibility you’ll try the loony idea; you must preserve the opportunity to learn from failure; you must suspend judgment.

Now it’s time to tell someone your new thinking. Summon the next level of courage, and choose wisely. Choose someone knowledgeable and who will be comfortable when you slather them with the ambiguity. (No ambiguity, no new thinking.) But most importantly, choose someone who will suspend judgment.

You now have critical mass – you, your partner in crime, and your bias for action. Together you must prevent the new thinking from dying on the vine. Tell no one else, and try it. Try it at a small scale, try it in your garage. Fail-learn-fail until you have something with legs. Don’t ask. Suspend judgment, and do.

And what of top down initiatives? They start with bottom-up new thinking, so the message is the same: suspend judgment, engage your bias for action, and try it. This is the precursor to the thousand independent choices that self-coordinate into a top-down initiative.

New thinking is a choice, and turning it into action is another. But this is your mission, if you choose to accept it.

I will be holding a half-day Workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment on June 13 in RI. (See bottom of linked page.)  I look forward to meeting you in person.

Choose Your Path

There are only three things you can do:


1. Do what you’re told. This is fine once in a while, but not fine if you’re also told how.


2. Do what you’re not told. This is the normal state of things – good leaders let good people choose.


3. Do what you’re told not to. This is rarified air, but don’t rule it out.

Of Sound Mind and Body

As professionals we get paid to think. But unlike professional athletes, we’ve forgotten the importance of mind and body.

Clearly, mind is connected to body. (I’m not talking about a metaphysical connection, I’m talking about a physical physical connection.) There are electromechanical connections (nerves) that pass information between the two and hydromechanical connections (blood vessels) that pass chemistry (oxygen and glucose, among others). The coupling is clear – what happens in one influences the other, then the other retorts. This back-and-forth ringing is complex and real. From the outside, our system architecture is highly coupled, yet from the inside we forget.

Professional athletes want high performance, and they get it through hard work, good food, regimented eating schedules, and rest. From the outside it seems they’re all about body, but on the inside they’re all whole system optimization – mind and body. (Yogi Berra – baseball is 90% mental and the other half physical.) They know food and rest influence the body, but they also know it influences the mind. They remember, we forget.

As a professional thinker, I urge you to do all you can to think well. Eat well, eat regularly, and get rest. The cost of a bad decision is high, and they’re more likely when blood sugar is low and you’re tired. If you don’t do it for your career, do it for your company – remember, they’re paying you to think.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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