Learning to fail

Imagine the scene, a classroom with 13 year old children, the teacher writes on the board, ‘today’s lesson is failure, how to do it well and often’.

Not a typical school scene. The implicit message of exams, and marks and prizes for top achievers is ‘be careful not to fail’. 

This is possibly the biggest blind spot in our education system and a major inhibitor of creativity and innovation. 

Software gaming company Valve know this only to well and describe in their employee handbook what happens if employee’s screw up. 

What if I Screw Up?
Nobody has ever been fired at Valve for making a mistake. It wouldn’t make sense for us to operate that way. Providing the freedom to fail is an important trait of the company—we couldn’t expect so much of individuals if we also penalized people for errors. Even expensive mistakes, or ones which result in a very public failure, are genuinely looked at as opportunities to learn. We can always repair the mistake or make up for it.

Their track record of success speaks for itself. 

Last year Wimbledon Girls High School took a giant step into the new world with Failure Week which was really about bravery and courage to try things that may not work. An essential survival skill, seldom taught.  

Screwed up






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Empty communication

We think it is easy to communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world. In fact it is hard.

I can message my friend in Auckland or Vancouver in a second. The quality of that message is a lot less than the letters I used to write to my granny when I was a kid.

The hour spent crafting a message to gran was way up the scale towards real communication. The text to my Canadian or New Zealand friend is a lot emptier.

Even further up the scale of real communication are the meaningful, honest, vulnerable conversations held in person. This is why executive coaching continues to grow.

Our digital messages are seldom quality. They are often shotgun blasts hoping to land. Unsure of the quality, we follow many of our messages with another one saying ‘did you get my message?’ or ‘did you understand my email?’

Our amazing new communication tools ironically allow us to send empty messages quicker and easier than ever. 

The medium is indeed the message*.

Empty communication






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* 1964 quote by Marshall McLuhan

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The paradox of strategy

Thinking strategically is paradoxical by nature.

To be able to think about something strategically we need to think through both the simple and the complex elements. This is the best way to look into the future.

But strategy is more than just thinking about the future. We also need to communicate and act (walk out the door) to move us towards our desired future.

Enter paradox. The future, as we know is complex. There is much uncertainty and many things to consider. We cannot ignore the complexity. Rather we need to distill it down to something simple that we and others can understand while not missing key elements.

A good strategist tells a simple story which is abstracted from the complexity that lies beneath. 

Like the diagram which paradoxically shows ascending and descending, good strategy shows both the simple and complex.

Ascending and descending paradox












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Globalisation 3.0

  • Globalisation 1.0 : From 1492 to 1800 countries globalised
  • Globalisation 2.0 : From 1800 to 2000 companies globalised
  • Globalisation 3.0 : Starting in 2000 individuals are now going global

Individuals globalising means you and me collaborating and competing globally with the new tools available to us. 

Sourced and adapted from: Tom Friedman / The World Is Flat

Indviduals from countries around the world collaborating and competing

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Work and play

James Michener’s quote about work and play is the perfect description of a portfolio life: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.”

Work and play







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A strategic way to find a new job

If you’re planning on finding a new job this year and have updated your CV to start sending it to companies then stop before you go any further.

This is the wrong strategy for finding good work, or in fact for finding any work at all. The reason is the message that you are sending along with your CV. The message in this case is:

“I’m part of the crowd and I’d like to join the queue along with the hundreds of other people looking for a job.”

If you were to receive your CV amongst thousands of others what would you do?

Richard Bolles, describes this approach as our neanderthal job hunting system. Ask around and see if you can find anyone who has had success with this approach. I would bet you find less than one in a hundred.

The approach that does work is to first spend time figuring out what you are good at. Then decide who would give you an opportunity to do what you are good at. Lastly sit back and figure out how you could make contact in a way that will send the person who receives your letter linking your skills with their need (not CV), into a frenzy as they call to make sure they get to you before anyone else does.

Tip: your letter needs to hint at something they really really want.

This is a strategic way to step out of the crowd. 

Good strategic thinking for finding meaningful work

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On trust and strategy

Trust is an integral part of strategy.

The many executives who tell me that their staff ‘just don’t get it’, are really saying that they are not trusted.

Trusted leaders have followers and trust is built one interaction at a time.

On the road between today and the implementation of your new strategy are hundreds of connections with your people, each of which can build trust while moving the strategy forward. The alternative can leave you wondering why it is so hard.

The road to trust

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Ideal vs. good enough

It’s tempting to look for the ideal solution, but seldom realistic.

In a world with infinite choices accessible to everyone, there is always something or someone better.

The challenge becomes getting to good enough and walking out the door.

The view of everyone else’s best can be intimidating and cause us to freeze up and start again. As a result we never get out of the door. 

How can my good enough be adequate against the champion who looks so much more ideal?

But then isn’t the champions’ ideal a culmination of many, many of her own ‘good-enoughs’? 


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