I have found a small archive of some of the blogs I posted under the old system and am re-posting them here as they did create some nice feedback.
Experience from the Trenches: Failure, *****-ups, and Laughter
I must apologize for being a few days late for this blog. I had a recent 8 pound, 11 ounce addition to my family so my attention has been else-where.
Failure and major *****-ups are common in life and occur all around us. When we are starting out in our career we are very much fearful of screwing up or failing completely. Lets face it, all through our life we have all been involved in failure, witnessed failure, tried to avoid failure, and have seen those that caused the failure even get promoted! (Arrrgh!) Lets be honest, life will provide the opportunity to fail or *****-up and no matter how hard we try, some things will just not go the way they are planned.
For example: About 12 years ago a client required an architecture document. This 300 page monstrosity took 4 weeks to complete. When it went to be printed the laser printer died. When the printer was repaired, then power went out due to a voltage spike. When the power was restored, it was discovered the computer was fried due to the voltage spike. The computer was fixed only to find the hard drive was now dead. We managed to recover the architecture document from the dead drive (at a significant cost) only to find that it was now corrupt. Two weeks later we have the document fixed and ready to deliver. When we delivered it to the client we were told by their manager that it was too big and to break the document down to 3, 100 page documents. So we did. Finally we delivered the document to the client CIO. His response was that the architecture document should be only one volume. Naturally we then presented the original 300 page architecture document. Two weeks later the project funding was reduced and the project shelved.
Needless to say during all the activity in the example above the stress level was getting quite high, and my vocabulary grew with new expletives. I lost a few pounds (I could use that now) and my hair started to turn grey. At the end I learned a great lesson. The business made a business decision not to continue due to lack of funding, and also, nobody at the local bar cared about my troubles or that my project was axed. We just played pool and laughed at my misfortune.
The above started me to think, “why am I getting so stressed at screwing up or at failure that I cannot control”? If I cannot control the outcome, I should just accept it and move on. I then started to look at my co-workers and those close to retirement couldn’t care less about screwing up as they would say “I am retiring next year, so why get stressed”. While my younger co-workers were getting stressed much easier. sometimes to the point of tears, or taking sick days off.
After a few nights of consuming a few cold, carbonated, barley beverages, I started to think about failure further and tried to understand it. This led me to the realization that we would not have progressed as far as we had as a species if it was not for failure. We have learned so much from failure and watching others fail, such as: not to eat certain berries, mushrooms, and that wild animals that are really cute do not want to be hugged. Castles and buildings fall down if not designed properly. Our building codes were created based upon failures. Edison, Bell, Ford all had their share of failures and from the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success (I just had to throw that in). Anyone remember the Apple Newton?......Apples huge failure, or was it just ahead of its time?
Now days if you fail, you might get a reprimand, might be told to learn from the mistake, or in the rare case even fired. Guess what, life will go on, and this can be a great opportunity to learn. Isn’t this a question during interviews “What was a recent failure you have had, and how did you deal with it?” I know I have had that question given to me a few times.
So now how about we all change how we deal with failure. Lets embrace it, especially since #$%^ happens. Let’s learn from it, lets teach others not to make the same mistakes. Lets pay it forward. Let’s not get too stressed about it. Especially, since we have all heard that stress can kill you.
We have also heard that laughter is the best medicine. So no matter what happens on a project, if it succeeds or fails, the sun will come up the next morning, the world will carry on, and there are bigger issues in the world, and to be blunt, for the vast majority of the people in the world, they will never have heard about your project or its status. So take comfort and learn from the failure/*****-up. I still take failure seriously, but I also now laugh at it. My hair is still partially grey, but I am a lot less stressed! And I also have a lot more fun at work!
So when involved in a failure, head out with some with friends and have a great laugh. After all, didn’t we all laugh with our friends in high school when we made a major *****-up or failed a test? We can learn a lot from our own past as to how to deal with failure.
Until next time,