Make Failing a Daily Habit

If you’re looking for a rah-rah success read, you’re on the wrong page. However, if you stay, I promise you won’t be sorry.

I love failure. And I am an expert at it.

I fail every single day. Sometimes I do it more than once, which makes me even happier.

So now you may be asking yourself, has DrJ slipped a gear or what?

Nope. You’re getting, as they say on Twitter, #TRUTH.

Because if you are not failing, you are not trying hard enough.

Or, as the poet Robert Browning, suitor of the elusive Elizabeth Barrett, wrote: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” (Spoiler alert: He did marry her despite robust parental interference, and apparently the result was quite heavenly.)

So, what’s your excuse for not failing?

In an informal survey I just completed, I found that the reasons for not failing fall into three bins.

Some people just don’t see their failures. Or shortcomings. Or, for that matter, reality, in its many shapes and forms. Now actually, this is failing, but in such a way that it does no one any good. You can’t learn from something you never noticed, so it doesn’t count in my book. Also, in the long run, it makes for a lonely life. Sharing our frailties is a great way to make friends. How cool is it to have the freedom to share who you are, warts and all, with someone, and to know that they’ll still want to hang out with you?

Then there is the Bizarro World strategy, where everything is opposite. Instead of ‘You can’t win if you don’t try’, they recite ‘You can’t fail if you avoid participating.’ At work, these are the folks who clock in; drink a lot of coffee; grouse about office politics or the weather or any of the million other things that add no value, and over which they have no control. By the end of the day they might have managed to fit in some modestly productive activities. But maybe if they attempted something big, or at least new, and failed at it, and repeated the cycle a few times, eventually they’d discover what really living is about.

The third group is made up of those who do participate, but never bite off more than they can chew. And swallow. And digest. (How is this possible? Maybe it’s genetics, like curly hair or funny shaped toes.) Pristine resumes that show ‘progressive levels of responsibility’ and other things that HR managers love, are carefully cultivated by these folks. They would never, ever get involved in anything so messy as multiple career changes, startup ventures, or traveling to the steppes of Central Asia to study the history and culture of yurt-dwelling Mongolian nomads.

Becoming an entrepreneur is how I discovered that failing isn’t nearly as bad as people think. You can fail and do better next time. You can fail in one area while making huge progress in another. You can fail, and in the process, discover that your true meaning in life is totally not what you’ve been doing for the past X number of years, and be utterly grateful for that life-changing fail. And I’m pretty lucky, because that’s what happened to me, and now I get to work every day with a bunch of awesome people who have no fear of failure.

We accept failure willingly because the heaven we’re reaching for is really, really far from our grasp. And we’re not going to be satisfied by lowering the goalpost. In fact, we’d like to raise it even higher.

The fact is, getting there may only be 10% of the fun. The other 90% is in the striving, the sharing, and the everyday satisfaction of beautiful teamwork.

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You want ‘Team Chemistry’? Start with Biology and Physics!

Forbes’ publisher Rich Karlgaard drew a line in the sand when he launched an article entitled Teams Matter, Talent Is Not Enough. And then along came the brilliant research of Adam Grant, set forth in his NY Times best-seller Give and Take. Dr. Grant proved that, contrary to a particularly nasty old adage, nice people frequently finish first.

I see these two writings (and waves of commentary along the same lines) as the beginning of the end of the ‘hire-only-the-best-and-brightest’ era. For the longest time, hiring has been all about talents, traits, skills, education, and experience. Now, we’re returning to a more complex and enlightened place in which the way a person ‘teams’ is gaining attention and awareness for its critical value.

People speak wistfully about ‘team spirit’, as if it were a kind of magic spell that could be cast by only the most enlightened of leaders or coaches. Now the phrase ‘team chemistry’ is coming back into vogue, and that’s a lot closer to the truth. Teamwork does indeed embody chemistry.

Not ‘I like you” chemistry. Real hard-science chemistry, and biology, and physics.

Biology has given you some inborn drives. One of them drives you to learn and master your world. Another drives you to connect with other people. Put the two together and you get the basic reason humans form teams. Including, by the way, that most basic of teams: the twosome.

Physics, which is essentially the science of how stuff works, explains a lot about the way to build a physical structure (or infrastructure) that won’t collapse when an earthquake or tornado hits. Think of what that takes. Strong parts connect with other strong parts in a very strong way. (Okay, that won’t get you an engineering degree, but it’s at the core of building anything complex. And you can’t have a team with just one person, right? You’ve got the drift, right?)

For the moment, let’s just focus in on that ‘very strong connect’ part. In human beings, that’s called interdependency. It’s what causes us to lean on each other and not topple over when bad things happen – like economic tremors causing our employer’s ‘Richter scale’ to register above 4.5.

So, just to review before we get to the midterms…

We have people with fundamental biological drives, which vary. (We can measure that variance, thanks to a new ‘team science’ that applies to any team in any kind of organization.)  And these drives operate within the framework of a team, and fundamental elements of teamwork, which follow the rules of physics.

Now we’re ready to tackle chemistry.

Even if high school or college chemistry is just a faded memory for you, you might be familiar with the principal of valence, aka covalent bonding. Or (depending on when you went to school) molecular orbital theory, which begat modern valence bond theory. No matter the name, or the level of detail in scientifically explaining how atoms form molecules, valence is about attraction. The most important thing you need to know about attraction between two entities is that it happens because there are physical forces that come into play to balance out an unstable imbalance. This creates ‘completeness.’

When you understand the teaming energy that is inherent in each person on the team, then you can predict how they will handle adversity, change, or just plain old stress. You can also predict the focus and drive they will apply to the fulfillment of a team mission. In the language of Teamability® these attributes are called ‘Role’.

Ready for team chemistry? Here’s the formula:

In humans, ‘completeness’ happens on a team after you get the right biology, e.g., people motivated to do something big with a team, into the right physical configuration.

Since each Role exhibits a complementary (balancing and energizing) influence on one other Role, add only the Roles that are most appropriate to the team’s mission, and introduce them all to each other so that each can find their ‘Role-pair’.

Then step back and watch the sparks fly!