Dying At Least Twice

frequency-309372_1280My friend Dave and I have something in common: We’ll both die at least twice. Each of us had medical occurrences that caused breath and blood to stop flowing — his very recently, mine when I was a young man. I’d like to keep it to two; the first occurrence wasn’t so fun.

Unlike physical death, failing at a job or a project may seem like a big deal, but in the grand scheme of things it usually isn’t. In fact, it can be a great learning experience. We often learn more from failure than we do from success.

There’s a difference between wanting to win and not tolerating failure. Sore losers are usually no fun to be around and often have issues that go back to Mommy and Daddy. Gracious and competitive people want to win, but their self-esteem isn’t tightly wrapped up in it.

Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to “package” failure to try to bamboozle everyone into thinking we won? During interviews for a senior job, what if you told prospects you wanted to hear about their three greatest mistakes and what they learned, and if they weren’t big, you’d stop the interview? A response such as, “Well, Todd, at Company ABC I was put into an impossible situation, and I learned that I always need to work for someone smart, like you!” would be unacceptable.

Wouldn’t it be great if we told young people starting their careers that it was OK to make mistakes and, in fact, we expect them to make some — we’d just like them to learn from these slipups? “Good” mistakes would be those in which you tried to get a win for the company and took reasonable risk. “Bad” mistakes would be ethical lapses, poorly thought through courses of action or repeated behavior that didn’t work previously.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve too often held myself back because I didn’t want to make a mistake for fear of failure or public embarrassment. What a shame!

Some jobs lend themselves to more experimentation than others. If you’re running a nuclear power plant, it’s probably unwise to make a lot of mistakes. However, most of us work and lead others in positions and careers where good mistakes should be more common.

Tolerance alone won’t foster good mistakes. You need to celebrate them. “Good attempt” should be a more common affirmation in most companies. It’s not really life or death.

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  • Don

    5:36 am March 18, 2016

    Hi, Todd..is this a metaphor to apply to the current political climate?….cloaked in a business context?….excellent work, Todd..as always. Shouldn’t you have thrown in…”as my Mother once told me…”…or…or…
    The possibilities seem endless.
    Hope you’re skiing today.
    Best, Don

    • Todd Ordal

      7:34 am March 18, 2016

      Thanks, Don. You’ve got a better mind for analogy than I!! Guess I should just take credit…
      Cheers, Todd

  • Joe Kautz

    11:56 am March 18, 2016

    Hi Todd,
    Reminds me of how a mutual friend of ours (MM) used to indoctrinate new staff. He would let them know he would never be mad at them making a mistake as long as it was done with the company’s or customer’s best interest at heart. Something that has always stuck with me. It also shows that leaders play a part in nurturing the culture, and maybe, the individual’s self esteem.

    • Todd Ordal

      12:52 pm March 18, 2016

      Thanks, Joe! It’s great to have a company culture that will support that indoctrination! Hope you are well.

  • Brian Bassett

    4:22 pm April 13, 2016

    I wasn’t at the time, but I am grateful for all the mistakes I have made. I know I learned more from my failures than from my successes.

    • Todd Ordal

      8:33 pm April 13, 2016

      Boy, I get that, Brian! Time sure gives perspective.