They’ve Redefined Failure
Have you ever read a book or heard someone speak and it challenged you to the point you thought you might never be the same? I don’t know about you. But it’s happened to me a few times – and each time the formula has been the same. These presenters are the kinds of thinkers that turn everything you think you know upside down.
Have you joined the Strength-based Revolution?
I first heard Marcus Buckingham speak at a conference almost fifteen years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. He asked the question, “When your child comes home with a report card that has an “A”, a few “B’s” and a single “C” – what do you talk about?” I knew my answer. I knew my parent’s answer. I knew the answer from just about everyone I know – you focus on the “C” to see how to turn it around. His take? He suggested the right answer was to find out what was going right in the class where they got the “A” and see if you could apply that to all the other classes. It was simple. It was incredible. It was a fundamental change of focus.
Do you know what Drives your team?
I heard Dan Pink talk about his book Drive a couple years ago and it made me question my assumptions as well. Like Buckingham, he was suggesting something counter-intuitive. He’s premise was that money was a poor motivator for complex jobs. Even though I knew that to be true personally, it didn’t stop me from assuming that my staff were primarily motivated by greater fortunes. He suggested (and could back up his notions with case studies) that people would gladly volunteer tons of their time and energy without ever making a cent – all because of autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Does Change have to be all that difficult?
I had the privilege to hear the Heath brothers twice before reading their book, Switch. But their presentation was just like Buckingham and Pink’s. It made you rethink your default notions – that change was, in and of itself difficult and something that everyone resisted. Until they asked about getting married – because few of us step into that huge life change with anything but excitement and joy.
Four Books, Four Flips
Marcus Buckingham, Dan Pink, Chip & Dan Heath – all great presenters and authors. All fascinating. And each one caused me to rethink everything I thought I knew about the areas they had researched. But one book pushed me further and challenged me in greater ways – and its author is the subject of this done done habit.
Maybe you already know everything there is to know about Muhammad Yunus. If so, then we can just agree that high performers redefine failure. But if you don’t know who he is, let me give you the quick run down.
Yunus – Banker to the Poor
Muhammad Yunus was an economics professor who moved back to Bangladesh to run the economics department at one of its universities. But famine had hit Bangladesh pretty hard.
Failure, for Yunus, was lecturing about five year economic plans that had little impact on the poor all around him.
Failure, for Yunus, was sitting in a classroom hoping to have an impact when loan sharks were destroying the community he lived in.
After Yunus loaned $27 to a group of over 40 people and was repaid, he went to a local bank to see if they would create small (micro) loans. These loans would keep some of the working poor who needed capital to grow their business from becoming slaves to the local loan sharks. But the banks saw these loan prospects as illiterate, unable-to-apply people with no previous credit and no assets to secure a loan.
Failure, for Yunus, was a banking system that only lent money to people who already had money.
Failure, for Yunus, was the complete disregard for entrepreneurship and self-employment.
Failure, for Yunus, was letting this whole thing stand. So Yunus redefined failure.
Eventually Yunus created Grameen Bank, which has loaned over $6 billion dollars in micro-loans. Over 7 million people have had their lives changed. And these asset-less, illiterate, unable-to-fill-out-paperwork people without credit history have a repayment rate of over 98 percent. That’s better than repayment rates at the banks that serve you and me.
The Sixth Habit of a “Done Done” Culture
Whether you’ve read Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Drive, Switch, or Creating a World without Poverty – one thing will strike you about these great books and the authors behind them. They’ve taken how you thought about the world and flipped it upside down.
Is a bad grade a failure? Or is the focus on the bad grade instead of the good grade the real failure?
Is working without getting a paycheck failure? Or is working where you don’t have opportunities for autonomy, mastery and purpose the real failure?
Is pushback on organizational change a failure? Or is the lack of emotional, rational and contextual alignment the real failure?
Is not being credit-worthy a failure? Or is a bank that isn’t people-worthy the real failure?
Almost twenty years ago an old boss of mine invited me into his office to tell me a story. I don’t know if this story is true. It was about a senior executive at Johnson and Johnson, who also happened to be related to the CEO, who was called into his own supervisor’s office and asked about a mistake that had cost the company tons of cash. The exec explained what had happened and feared he’d be fired. When he asked if he was still employed, his boss looked at him and told him that after spending that much money on his education, they were for sure going to keep him around. The point of the story was that this guy’s boss saw the financial failure as an investment rather than purely a financial loss.
My boss told me the story because we’d just failed on a major project and it had cost us a lot. While I didn’t fear that I’d be fired (naively), I did fear that I’d never be given that kind of responsibility again. Thankfully my fears never came to be. My boss redefined failure as an investment that day and allowed me to learn from it and to improve from it.
How do you and your team deal with failure?
Do you send people “off the island” when they blow it?
Or do you have ways to collect feedback and learn from it?
Are you changing the definition of failure so that it’s inline with your own values and objectives?
Are you giving your high performers second and third chances?