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Posts tagged ‘Failure’

Success – or not

“We want to be successful; we want to be the best,” is one of the most common responses when leaders are asked about organization goals. But as I watch those organizations and individuals who are outwardly and apparently successful, I wonder, “Is that what we really want? Or do we want to inspire mastery?”

Success is a peak moment in time, captured in a photograph or by the plaque on the wall. It might be captured in Monday morning data, now the recent past. It may be celebrated for a night or a few days. It might even be noted on the local television station or newspaper. But success is not lasting.

Mastery focuses on what there is to learn, where the growing edge might be, and the discipline to continue moving forward. Mastery demands endurance and courage. It is not motivated by success or perfection – which have more to do with how others view us and what we do.

Mastery is not the same as success – which is only a moment in time. It is a constant pursuit of improvement, growth, and creativity. It is resilience in times of less than desirable outcomes and even outright failure.

Leaders can act to promote the pursuit of mastery over success:

Analyze Failure. Intermountain Healthcare, a system of 23 hospitals in Utah and Idaho, routinely analyzes physicians’ deviations from medical protocols. The goal is growth and improvement. Actively tracking and analyzing deviations and sharing the outcome data encourage physicians to buy into this program. The goal is to motivate people to move beyond the surface: “procedures weren’t followed,” to identifying critical thinking skills and understanding outcomes and results.1

Promote creativity. Mayo Clinic created the “queasy eagle” award honoring near, but abandoned wins. The goal was to create change and transformation after realizing that years of intolerance of failure stopped medical breakthroughs. In the 18 years prior to this award, Mayo had created only 36 new ideas for patient care in a particular field. In the year following, 245 new ideas were created, some of which are now patented.2

Build a learning culture. A learning culture is one where failures of all types, large and small, are reported, analyzed, and used as opportunities for discovery and growth. It is a culture where experiments are encouraged over and over again. Some leaders worry that being sympathetic to failure will lead to “anything goes.” In our complex world, failure is certain. It is our response to it that will dictate whether positive change and transformation emerge.

Creating an organizational culture that seeks mastery over success is not magic. It must be fought for every day in a disciplined, intentional way. It requires leadership, not management. If you lose this battle, you may lose the battle for talent and sustainability.

Mastery invests in people not just tools. It encourages risk rather than punishing failure. It rewards contribution not competition. It accepts responsibility rather than assigning blame. It thinks of span of influence, not span of control. It focuses on “what” is right instead of “who” is right.

A master does not know a subject perfectly, from end-to-end. An organization that seeks mastery will not be a perfect place to work. Those who seek mastery know that there is more that they don’t know that what they do know. The learning organization knows that there will always be more to learn.

Those who lead toward mastery know that courage is not the absence of fear. How do you define success?

1Bohmer, R.M.M. (2010). “Fixing Health Care on the Front Lines,” Harvard Business Review, April 2010
2APQC. (2006) “Mayo Clinic Innovation: Putting Ideas into Action,” American Productivity & Quality Center, p. 139.

Where are you investing?

This question is not about dollars. I’m asking about where you’re investing your time and energy? Do you set goals? Do you set the Jim Collin’s type of goals: Big Hairy Audacious Goals? I’m not opposed to goals and objectives, but I would argue that we too much time being invested in achieving the outcome.

We invest a lot of time and energy into desired outcomes – losing weight, exercising more, winning the promotion, building a great team, <you fill in the blank>. But when we invest our time and energy into a particular outcome, we set ourselves up for anxiety, loss, and even despair. Why? Much of the time we don’t reach the goals we set, either as individuals or organizations. Life doesn’t seem to obey our commands to turn out a certain way. The influence of innumerable variables most often produces unexpected outcomes.

I’ve been thinking about this and understand that we all need goals, hopes, and dreams for Life and well-being. But rather than investing in the outcome, I believe that we need to invest well and with intention in our actions and the process along the way. We can seize the day, enjoy the journey, befriend what comes along the road. Investing in good process and right action allows us to achieve success every day that we act with integrity and do our best.

It’s about how you got there. Not what you’ve accomplished.
  – Yvon Chouinard, CEO, Patagonia

Yellowstone Wild Flowers

Success … maybe

There are days when I have difficulty deciding whether a project or workshop is working or not. On other days, I can spend time worrying about whether a decision is good or bad. Or something happens that seems frustrating and upsetting. Often the this story that I encountered a few years ago from Wisdom Tales (p.35-36) comes to mind:

A farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbors gathered upon hearing the news and said sympathetically, “That’s such bad luck.”

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The horse returned on his own the next morning, and brought seven wild horses with it. “Look how many more horses you have now,” the neighbors exclaimed. “How lucky!”

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day, the farmer’s son attempted to ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. “How awful,” the neighbors said. “It looks like your luck has turned for the worse again.”

The farmer simply replied, “Maybe.”

The following day, military officers came to town to conscript young men into the service. Seeing the son’s broken leg, they rejected him. The neighbors gathered round the farmer to tell him how fortunate he was.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Success is often judged by comparing it to the outcome we expected – which is subjective. Circumstances cannot always be judged good or bad. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

When things don’t seem to be going the way I hope for I often ask, “What is working well here? What do I need to keep? What do I need to let go? What lessons can I learn?”

Success? Failure? Maybe.

Failure is an option?

Failure has been a word of the moment for the past few years: “too big to fail“, Jim Collin’s How the Mighty Fall, and – I can’t count the British Petroleum headlines on the subject. Today, Seth Godin’s blog talks about the “hierarchy of failure worth following“:

. . . frequency = good all the way to please-don’t!

FAIL OFTEN: Ideas that challenge the status quo. Proposals. Brainstorms. Concepts that open doors.

FAIL FREQUENTLY: Prototypes. Spreadsheets. Sample ads and copy.

FAIL OCCASIONALLY: Working mockups. Playtesting sessions. Board meetings.

FAIL RARELY: Interactions with small groups of actual users and customers.

FAIL NEVER: Keeping promises to your constituents.

I’m reflecting on how this fits into my understanding of organizational and personal failure. Finally, a quote from Michael Jordan:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

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