Recently, I was doing one of my cross-country jaunts and was flipping through an edition of Air Canada’s enRoute magazine and came across an article about Kobe, Japan. In 1995, the city of 1.5 million people suffered a devastating earthquake that killed 4500 people and damaged or destroyed more than 120,000 buildings. In this time of tragedy and devastation, urban planners from around the country converged and appeared to have taken the words of Japanese philosopher Mizuta Masahide to heart: “My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.”
Today, Kobe is no longer the mishmash of utilitarian, drab buildings constructed during the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, but an architectural marvel that is “inclusive, interactive, and ecological.”
All too often I have seen teams create an environment that fears failure to such an extent that the thing they were avoiding is the thing they become. At best, they become the drab buildings over time; at worst, they eventually create their own earthquakes, but are too paralyzed by their fears to learn from the failures and allow a stronger, more breathtaking phoenix to rise from the ashes.
Counter to popular belief, the opposite of success is not failure. A case could be made that the opposite of success is actually apathy (this leads us to a whole different discussion, which I’m sure I’ll cover in another post). In fact, success and failure often go hand in hand. Or, more appropriately, the learnings from failures breed success. The great basketball player Michael Jordan put it much more eloquently, “I’ve failed over and over in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
How does your team deal with failure? Do they learn from it? Do they embrace failure or the adage, “Failure is not an option”? If it’s the latter, then ask yourself: what successes are you missing out on by avoiding the failures at all costs?
This past spring, we enrolled my two-year old son in a gymnastics class. Unfortunately, living in Toronto, space is a premium, so his gymnastics class was in a modified office building. Fortunately, he’s two, so even the small trampoline (remember those fitness ones from the eighties that were all the craze—the ones about two feet in diameter?) was still a big draw.
Since the class ended, he’s been able to keep up his practice in the off-season thanks to a trampoline we have set up at the cottage. While his initial thrills were rooted in getting a slight bounce with every step, his confidence has grown and he is looking for the bigger bounces—the ones that take him higher, but also risk him falling flat on his face. I noticed that we kept telling him he has to jump in the middle of the trampoline to go after those kinds of bounces. You need to go after the area with more give, more flexibility and a looser structure to get the higher bounce. I also realized that this holds true for most of the thrills and exhilaration we achieve in our work lives.
Operating in a structured, rigid environment is akin to jumping around the perimeter of the trampoline. You can still get some air, but it’s not going to give you that rush or that kind of bounce you need to try out new moves such as back flips (or, if you’re two, a jump that takes you higher than a few centimeters). It’s the centre of the trampoline where there is more flexibility, more give and more room to get the highest highs and the biggest bounces. While those on the perimeter might point out that the bigger the jump, the more likely it is that you fall flat on your face. Very true—we witnessed many face plants watching our son. But we also witnessed his bounces get higher and higher.
If you manage staff, are you asking for greatness and growth while containing them to the perimeter of the trampoline or encouraging them to jump in the middle?
Another Thanksgiving is upon us (for those in Canada), and it always provides a great opportunity for us reflect on what we're thankful for. Without a doubt, I am thankful for my in-laws who take on the annual Thanksgiving dinner, as it means I do not have to touch the innards of a turkey for yet another year.
My sister-in-law is the hostess with the most-est when it comes to our annual Thanksgiving dinners. Actually, I really need to give my brother-in-law credit, as he's often the grocery shopper and chef. She is the mistress of the decor, so the two of them make a perfect pair. But that's for a different post. They are so good, in fact, that we are often left wondering how we can contribute. Since the rest of the us don't want to feel like ungracious guests, we usually offer to bring token foods such as an appetizer or dessert. However, the past two years have taught us there is just as much value in coordination and communication as there is in giving.
Two years ago, everyone decided to bring dessert...without sharing this decision with everyone else. Hey, I'm not one to complain when a meal's desserts outnumber the mains, but the visual of five (yes, FIVE) pumpkin pies on the table highlighted the absurdity of the situation. You would think we would have learned by the time Thanksgiving rolled around last year. We learned. We just learned the wrong lesson. The lesson we took away--don't bring pumpkin pie because everyone else is going to bring pumpkin pie. That was the lesson we took away, anyway. Well, that was also the lesson everyone else took away. So you can probably guess what happened. Last year's Thanksgiving featured a delicious meal, but left everyone with only memories of the pile of pies and our sweet teeth unfulfilled.
So how does this relate to business? Think about the last time your team made a mistake or something didn't go well. Did you talk about it? Did you diagnose what happened? Did you discuss what needs to happen the next time you encounter the same situation (In our case, coordinating and communicating who will be bringing what the next time)? Or did you just take it for granted that everyone recognized the mistake and knows what to do next time? If your team continues to have too many pies or none at all, perhaps it's time to discuss, come to a consensus, and coordinate.
Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers! May you get just enough pie.
For as long as I can remember, I had the belief that you should never mix your business life with your professional life. "Don't bring your personal stuff to work and don't bring your work stuff home." I can't pinpoint the source of this mantra or whether it was just a residual of the Mad Men philosophy of work that was still an influence in my sphere or, perhaps, being a teen of the nineties, an extrapolation of the "Two Worlds Colliding" theory on Seinfeld, but this belief was innate.
While I was lucky enough to save myself from suffering from the affliction I have dubbed "Two Selves" (see below), others have not been so lucky. Do you know any of these people? The easiest way to describe them would be the ones with the Jekyll and Hyde personalities: Jekyll for home and Hyde for work (or vice versa--I never could remember which one was the crazy one). A caricature of someone suffering from the "Two Selves" would look something like this: that guy at the office who couldn't be bothered to say hi to people or ask them how they're doing and has no regard for anyone's feelings as he barks orders at his staff being the same guy who lets his granddaughter paint his nails and take him on one hour walks that only stretch a block as they discover and examine all of the ladybugs and leaves in the neighbourhood. Do you know one of those? Or, perhaps, you yourself might be afflicted? Quick test: if two people from each of your worlds meets each other and starts comparing notes, if they don't believe they're talking about the same person, you may be suffering from "Two Selves".
I was very close to developing "Two Selves", but I was lucky enough to join an amazing organization soon after graduation that quickly shot down that theory and encouraged us to get to know each other, even like each other, and gain an understanding and appreciation of where each other comes from. The owners of this company understood that, while some of the rules of business might be different (i.e., dress code, business communication, etc.), generally the rules of engagement remained the same regardless of whether it was business or personal. That is, you're much more likely to yield a positive result if you treat people (business associates, clients, vendors, staff....spouses, parents, friends, children) with respect and decency than not. Simple, right?
Maybe, but I myself have struggled with this at times, as have most of my clients (although, thankfully, not usually to the extreme as the caricature above) and decided to use this blog as a direct challenge to the assumption that one should not mix business with personal. So, be forewarned. We're going to get a little bit business and we're going to get a little bit personal. Let's hope that we have more success combining these two than the forefather of this movement: the mullet.