Sometimes people will fail

Here’s a thing; Not everyone can be successful in their job.

And that’s ok.

There are multiple reasons why failure happens, it can be the role, the requirements, the skills, the culture of the organisation, the leadership and management or just dumb luck. But we need to be ok with the fact that failure in role is real and normal. It is an inevitable factor of multiple people coming together to deliver an outcome or result.

I’ve worked in organisations with hire and fire cultures, they normally have little to do with performance and are more about dominant personalities, prejudice and conformity. Those that aren’t seen to “fit in” are rapidly shown the door, normally with some reference to, “not cutting it” or some other imprecise statement.

I’ve also worked in organisations where individual, persistent failure is normalised and accepted for far too long until a moment of  “truth” that often leads to a bloody and ugly end. Polite organisations which will tell individuals one thing, then moan to anyone who will listen behind their back.

Failure and underperformance can be the result of the individual or the organisation, it really doesn’t matter. The point is that it happens and dealing with it at the earliest possible moment is the best thing for all of the parties concerned. Nobody wants to come to work thinking that they’re doing a good job, but failing to meet requirements. Nobody wants to work with someone who is under delivering or performing. And nobody wants to manage or lead someone who simply doesn’t deliver.

Recognising and accepting failure is an important part of being able to deal with it in a mature, supportive and grown up way. When we avoid it, fail to recognise or accept it, we tend to want to make it disappear as quickly as possible – that’s why you have the cultures I’ve described above. Instead, what if we were to embrace it, to discuss it and to approach it as a natural facet of our human existence? How would that change the working live of the people in the organisations in which we exist?

We need to talk about failure

There is one thing I excel at, it’s failure. I’ve singularly failed at well over half the things I’ve ever attempted to do. And even those of you that are poor at statistics will be able to work out those aren’t good odds.

Learn to play the guitar? Fail
Learn to speak German? Fail
Learn to code? 404

Significant parts of my working life have also included spectacular fails – its hard sometimes to not bring your whole self to work…..

Let me tell you about someone else that failed, my friend Steve. Last week he tried to swim across the English Channel to France. Now that’s not easy, in the same week someone tragically lost their life whilst trying to complete the same challenge. Steve stopped seven and a half hours in to his attempt. In a Facebook post he said this,

“Yesterday was not my day. I’m really disappointed, as can be expected. I trained hard for this for 18 months, and thought I had it covered. Battles were lost in the lumpy sea with wind against tide as we progressed into the open water (albeit that my pilot Simon described them as good for the channel), vomiting everything in my stomach and more after 2.5 hours, and struggling to take on more fuel quickly enough, but the war was undoubtedly lost in my mind, and that’s what I’m most disappointed about.”

Steve failed. And in my book, that makes him great.

In the world of work, we struggle to fail. We invest so much time, effort and energy in making things happen that we become unable to accept that they’re not a success. We make up reasons for the situation, the environment, the market, the opportunity. When you’ve been through twenty-six board meetings, fourteen rounds of business cases and eventually got the go ahead, it is pretty hard to accept that anything isn’t right.

And when we cannot accept that we’ve failed, we pass up the opportunity to learn. We take nothing away, because we create a narrative that explains events through untrue circumstances.

Read that comment from Steve again. Did he blame the waves? The wind? The flotsam and jetsam of our muddied waters? Or did he analyse and own his own performance.

All of us will fail this week in small and inconsequential ways. We won’t all be swimming the channel, or starting new businesses. We won’t be running marathons or climbing mountains. But nonetheless we can learn from our failures all the same.

I love failure, you should love failure. We should embrace failure as our biggest opportunity to grow, not as the biggest threat to our self-worth. At the end of the day, those who don’t try, can’t fail. And the brave will try, fail, learn, grow and try again. That’s what makes them stand out as exceptional.

So as you go about your business this week, remember we can all be successful at not doing a lot, or we can shoot high and run the risk that we miss.

Maybe it’s me, but I can’t help thinking, things could be a whole lot more interesting if we were all just a little bit more Steve.

The most entitled generation

They don’t care about the impression they make on other people.
They think everything evolves around them.
They don’t care about their reputation.
Yet they want constant acclaim.

Are they the most entitled generation that has ever existed?

The baby boomers.

Yes. The generation that has single handily robbed future generations of financial prosperity, of social equity, of political stability. I’m talking about my parents, their friends and the people they never will have met but they let commit these crimes against future generations.

I’m talking about the people that ripped the wealth out of businesses, that increased inequality. That were responsible for the financial crisis, the political and social unrest. The people that sold off our state treasures and bought reduced price shares for personal profit. That robbed us of our natural resources for financial gain.

I’m talking about the generation that has single handedly made sure that it benefitted from the best health service, but then made it unaffordable. That benefitted from a buoyant housing market, but then made it unaffordable. They benefited from free and subsidised higher education, but then made it unaffordable.

And I’m talking about the generation that has led the charge to isolation and exile. That wiped millions, if not billions off the pension funds of the next generation so they could live in a whimsical bubble of post war tea and spam sandwiches. That will remove the opportunity for the next generation and the one after that to enjoy the privileges that they have had, because of the fabricated fear of different faces – and the notional concept of “gaining control”.

The generation that doesn’t see the irony in the fact that most of them will be dead before the real ramifications of the decision are ever felt. Which in all this sorry mess, is the only upside.

You should all be ashamed. You did not do enough.

But then I say this. This is not your country, this is ours. This is not your future, this is ours. This will not be your vision, it will be ours. I tell you this,

We will make this right.

As your hips start to go and the catheters slip in. As the memory fades and the eyesight dims. As we push you quietly in to the corner to await your final moments.

We will sort this out. We will make this better. We will build a world and a society that will put you to shame. We will confine you to the history books as the most selfish, most entitled and most negligent generation ever. We will remember what you’ve done and always strive to be better than you.

We will undo what you’ve done and we will build anew.

And we will never, ever let this happen again.

 

NOTE: This was written on Friday, when emotion was high. But I’ve decided to post in full – realising that in places it may stray into vitriol. It was also before I saw this earlier post from my friend at Flipchart Fairytales. Which deals with issue much more sensibly.