failure

DNS (Did Not Start)

With two months to go, 60 more days to prepare, I quit. I decided not to run my first marathon. That failure has nagged at me since.

Early May 2016 I signed up to run a big marathon in Las Vegas in November. It was a strategic decision. I figured I’d be more motivated to complete the event with the investment of an event two states away. It would be an excuse to have a fun trip with my wife. I’d be back in my home state, and the temperature and weather would be great. Plus, it gave me six months to get into shape.

My kids thought it was cool and my daughter spent her allowance to buy me a key chain that read “26.2”. I told her I hadn’t done it yet and she responded that she knew I would.

Her faith wasn’t unfounded. I like to take on big challenges that scare me a little, I like to compete, and although I’d never run that far before, I used to run nearly daily. There was a time when I enjoyed actively pushed hard against my comfort zones.

But something funny happened on my way to the marathon. I never quite got my act together. Four months into my training and I was still doing the same (actually, less) distance as I did my first month. I feared getting hurt by pushing too far too soon, but never did enough to acclimate and build a solid base. I spend all my time thinking about running, yet most of the thought was around excuses not to run far, or even “reasons” to not run at all. It became obvious I simply wasn’t going to be able to complete it, so I killed the idea.

The worst part of quitting was telling my kids I wasn’t going to run the marathon. I felt like I let them down. My daughter tried to encourage me by insisting I could do it, and I had to explain there just wasn’t time. That hurt. A lot.

Still does.

Looking back, my mistakes are obvious. I tried to use an expensive event and trip to motivate me, but never went all in by booking flights and a hotel. It because a huge barrier where it was easier to not go because I didn’t want to spend all the money if I couldn’t complete the run. The race also had a four and a half or five-hour time limit, which didn’t allow much cushion if I needed to walk or rest. Fear of failing loomed large.

My biggest mistakes? No consistency and I didn’t embrace the pain. I would have been better to run a mile a day for the first month than the haphazard, almost random training schedule I was using. I feared short runs would set me back – not far enough to improve conditioning, just far enough to get sore and prevent running the next day – so I simply did not run enough. Staying inside the comfort zone was much nicer than getting uncomfortable.

Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Stupid.

I realize now that every big goal I’ve achieved in the past has been accomplished because I was obsessed with it. Consumed by it. Focused to the point my wife got a little concerned.  I simply refused be beaten by the goal and was relentless in working toward it.

Over this weekend I registered to do a local half-marathon in early August. New goal, new plan, new focus, new obsession.

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you’re not the boss of me

When my son was five years old he was fascinated with “being in charge”. No surprise really because at five it seems like everyone is in charge of you. Even as we grow up I suspect we all want to be in control of our own destiny. This drive, this ambition is a good thing but any strength pushed too far becomes a weakness. Within every organization there are employees, managers, even senior managers getting in their own way – and getting in the company’s way. They spend their time wishing that they were in charge – in complete control. They are irritated by anything that gets in their way and dream of being able to lead unhindered. Why is this dangerous?

It ignores the practical reality that everyone reports to someone. Thinking that you can get promoted high enough to escape the scrutiny of others is fantastical nonsense. If they can’t see this obvious truth, what less apparent realities are they missing? What are they not doing while they are spending their time and energy in fantasyland?

A leader dreaming of being in complete control is a leader who wants their ideas and decisions to go unchecked by law, regulation, common sense, or basic manners. They seem to believe that they are completely right in all situations and should never be questioned, second guessed, or told “no.”

Leaders thinking they are universally right lack introspection and ignore/discredit any feedback that suggests they might be wrong. This is an assertive person who will make snap decisions that are often right, but they are unable to tell when they are wrong. They are also unable to lean from mistake or experience.

Because they believe they are always right, they rarely think through the potential consequences and downsides of a decision. Although they may have good ideas, implementation is often chaotic because they mistakenly believe that creating the idea was the hard part and executing the idea is easy. Likewise, they are continually frustrated by those around them who are unable to implement their ideas exactly as it exists in their minds, unhindered by reality.

The leader who wants to be completely in charge is someone only thinks about themselves rather than what is best for the company, the customer, the employees, or anyone else. They create teams, departments, and organizations whose success and glory is so centered on themselves that it dies when they are not there. This is in stark contrast to the leaders they try to create great teams, departments, and organizations that will thrive after the leader is gone (think petty dictatorships vs enduring democracies).

Unfortunately, these folks are often used to getting their way because others find it easier to give in than keep crashing against the wall of their closed-minded obstinance. This only reinforces the belief that they are right and if they stick to their guns they will prevail. All of these traits make them ferociously difficult to manager and downright painful to report to.

Sometimes this person will get in their own way so much that their career never moves forward and they spend their lives at the lowest levels, forever frustrated. Sometimes, this person will realize that they cannot work for others and start their own business or seek out jobs with maximum autonomy. And sometimes, this person will rise up through the organization, gaining considerable position and power through talent and hardwork, yet still crave more, more, more.

Again, I’m not referring to ambition, but the desire to have complete, unchecked control. So what’s to be done? As an HR pro, how do you help this person lead while staying within the boundaries of law, decency, and long-term success? How do you help them tap into their often considerable strengths while keeping them from creating anarchy and chaos? I’m leaving this open ended as I’d love to hear others’ ideas and experiences.

innovation leads to failure leads to innovation

People tell you that you should be creative and innovate to get ahead of the competition. What they don’t tell you is that creativity and innovation lead to failure. That’s right failure.

Whenever we try something different it is probably not going to work, particularly the first (few) times. It will fail. True innovation comes from learning from that failure and tweaking and experimenting and playing with it until it works.

When developing training programs, the bulk of the work is done in the back office. But the magic happens in front of a group of participants. I rarely have an insight on how to improve wording or flow when sitting at my desk. Some of my biggest breakthroughs have been from failing in the field – forgetting what I was going to say, getting ahead of myself and presenting the sequence out of order, or getting a question that I didn’t anticipate. Getting it wrong, recovering, and seeing how it can be even better leads to huge gains.

Thomas Leonard, considered by many to be the father of personal coaching, used to intentionally overload systems and processes to see what would break first. Then he’d correct that and overload it again. This allowed him to quickly understand what worked, what didn’t, and to create airtight processes.

In the mid 1980’s Suzuki developed a groundbreaking sportbike – the GSX-R. To make the engine lighter than many thought was possible, the engineers would shave weight from a part, test, and shave more weight until it failed. Doing this over and over with each component taught them the lightest reliable weight each part could be.

The problem is that we usually try something new and when it doesn’t work we deem it failure and give up. But each failure holds a lesson that we can use for improvement.

If we’re willing to learn.