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Let’s Hear It for Failure!

There’s a story from the early days of IBM and its legendary CEO and founder, Tom Watson, which offers an instructive lesson about failure.  According to company accounts, one of the senior vice-presidents made a mistake in his department that cost the company a huge amount of money.  When the summons came for a meeting in Watson’s office, the VP was so sure of the outcome that he wrote his letter of resignation before going to the meeting.  Imagine his surprise when Watson did not chew him out, but instead simply asked him for his version of what had happened.

Greatly relieved, the man confessed that he had expected to be fired because his mistake had cost the company 10 million dollars. Watson’s response was a laugh and the quip, “Are you serious?  The last thing I’d do is fire you for an honest mistake, and besides, I just invested 10 million dollars in your education!”

Unfortunately, most bosses today would find it very difficult to forgive such a mistake.  We live in an era that demands perfection from business leaders and employees, politicians, celebrities, sports stars, family members, friends and neighbors, etc.  No one wants to acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes – often lots of them – and that there’s real value in those failures if we learn from them.  The general rule seems to be that, especially in business, we get paid to succeed not fail.

But think about it.  What if we lived and worked in an environment where we could actually step back and take a thorough look at our failures – and ask ourselves “How could I have done this better?”  Look it up, most research on the subject of failure actually shows that it can be a key factor in personal growth.  When we stop and take a look at an experience, it often leads to a change in the way we view the world, and most often that change is positive.

Business research also finds that when companies put too much emphasis on goals, it can actually entice employees to cut corners and reduce the quality of products and services in order to look good in the eyes of their superiors.  Unfortunately, those same decisions tend to have exactly the opposite effect in the eyes of the business’s customers, since they are the ones who get the final results of those decisions.  And the resulting problems are harder to correct too because any meaningful discussion about the situation will now take place in hidden corners and behind closed doors.

It often takes heroic effort to get our mistakes and failures out in the open where everyone can work together to fully examine them and extract the nuggets of learning they can offer.  Sure, it seems that people are really hard on each other these days and quite often looking for somewhere else to place the blame when they are stinging from a failure.  But social media and reviews are showing us each day that we are also pretty quick to forgive each other when someone owns up to his failures and makes an honest attempt to correct the misstep.

If others are willing to forgive, shouldn’t we then be quicker to forgive ourselves and move on?  If we don’t, we most certainly risk falling into a consistent pattern where we become unwilling to take chances and grow.

Ahhh, The Glamorous Life.

How would you like to be famous? Go ahead, pick your particular celebrity idol. Whether it’s a movie star, a sports hero, a musical superstar, or a billionaire businessperson, wouldn’t it be nice to be in their shoes for a day?

Well, the truth is – maybe, maybe not. While it seems like it might solve all of your problems if you had their lifestyle, notoriety, (and especially their money), if you look closely enough, there might be a few downsides to that image of fame and fortune.

Let’s consider a list of potential issues that a famous person might have to deal with that ordinary people never have to think about:

1. This first one’s a biggie – Lack of privacy.

Being from Chicago, I remember the days when Michael Jordan owned the town. (Heck, a significant case could be made that he owned the world, but then Kobie Bryant and Le Bron James fans might have a differing opinion.) Michael couldn’t walk down any street, anywhere, without being mobbed by fans. It could get really annoying, really fast, if you couldn’t enjoy a meal in your favorite restaurant, go to movie, or spend a day at the park with your kids without being continually accosted by fans, even when most are well-meaning.


2. How do you know who your real friends are?

When you’re famous (and rich), long lost relatives suddenly show up at your door, on the telephone, or wherever you happen to be. Believe it or not, you are the only one who can help them with their money problems, lack of a job, or just about any other problem they have. It doesn’t matter that you have your own set of problems – and your own life – you are now the answer to their prayers.


3. The pressure to always perform.

Didn’t think about this one, did you? Have you ever sat in a major league ballpark or sports stadium and really watched fan behavior? It isn’t always adoring. Sure, it’s all good when you hit a homerun that wins the game, or sink the championship winning basket. But, how about when you’re batting under .200 and haven’t had a hit in five straight games? How would you handle the string of insults directed your way by those same fans that were cheering you last week? How many of us are under that kind of pressure in our everyday lives and jobs? Sports heroes make the money they do because they can do what they do, day in and day out. Do you really want that kind of pressure every minute of your life?

And that leads us to…

4. Learning to live a normal life.

Now here’s where the rest of us often have an advantage. After all, is anything in the life of a celebrity really normal? By the very fact that they have the fame that they do, and have the money they do, they never get to experience a lot of what we consider everyday normal activity. Most of us don’t get the same kind of forgiveness for making life’s mistakes. We aren’t held up on a pedestal and given special treatment. We, unlike them, learn quickly that there’s no such thing as  for anything and everything we decide we want to do. And that, my friends, can lead to some potentially rough experiences when our hero meets a barrier that his status will not transport him over.

So take another look at this very brief list of celebrity perks. Then ask yourself, are they really better than the life I already have? You just might surprise yourself at how blessed you already are!

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