Insight on Failure and Vulnerability

I follow the Off-Coast Podcast, hosted by Mark Frank.  I took two really great insights from the recent episode with Krista Morgan of P2B Investor.

First, Krista was speaking on her practice of writing to share news and and perspective with her team, and how she makes a point of sharing her own failures and disappointments with her company.  When asked about the response she got from this difficult practice of communicating candidly with her team, Krista said:

“You don’t get a response a lot of the time. You just everyday incrementally gain their trust.”

I love this insight: because doing what’s right, even if it’s tough, usually doesn’t get recognition or thanks, especially in the short term.

Mark followed that comment with this insight about the importance of a leader being honest with their team about failure, and the role it plays.

“Speaking about failure is the first way to let people understand that is okay to fail, and that’s what’s going to happen. There’s going to be mistakes, and that’s how we get better.”

Great perspectives.

Check out the podcast here.



Grateful for the Obstacles

Today my family faced some discouragement.  We thought that a big issue in our lives was coming together perfectly, and we ended up falling just short of success–meaning that we’ll have some stress and difficulty as we put the pieces back together over the next few months.

The reason we fell short was something we’ve had trouble with before: our confidence, our positivity, and our ability to persuade.

So often when we fall short of a goal we get discouraged.

Obstacles are paths to greater things.

Instead, I am focusing on being grateful.

For my family, these shortcomings are things we need to work to overcome in this particular instance.  But, more broadly, we need to overcome these things for the rest of our lives.  These obstacle will not go away for us.  Instead, it will become more important over time.

So, in a fundamental way, this shortcoming is teaching us what we need to know to succeed.  Without this setback, we would not continue to improve; we would not spend more time learning on this topic.  But this challenge is giving us the opportunity to get better, to grow.

I am working to be thankful for the setbacks; be grateful for the obstacles.  If I can lay aside my pride and discouragement, the challenges will help me grow in ways that successes never will.


Underestimating Your Creative Potential

I love this insight, from one of my business school professors, Loren Nordgren, and his co-author, University of Chicago Professor Brian J. Lucas.

They compared how many creative ideas people came up with in a brain-storming session with how many they thought they could come up with.  The study found that people consistently come  up with more ideas than they expect.  Not only that, but the ideas got better as they kept working.

As they say in the paper: “Our studies suggest that people may underestimate their creative potential in everyday creative tasks and that people may leave creative ideas on the table by failing to invest in persistence.”

Persistence isn’t easy, of course.  And it doesn’t feel like it’s bearing any fruit while you’re in the midst of the difficult work.  But that’s where your best work happens, where you can grow.

The boardwalk is easier, if you can enjoy the sand, you’re on to something.

My lesson: stay encouraged, and keep working–you probably have more creative ideas in you than you think.

Read about the article here.






Appreciate the Seasons

My wife and I have a beautiful 4-month old daughter.  She is chubby, full of smiles, and loves to be held.  If you put her down to explore by herself, she always ask to be picked back up.

Until she didn’t–just last week–and started to enjoy time on her own.

We used to joke about how we’d have a tough time dropping her off for middle school still in the baby carrier, because it’s a funny image.  And carrying a baby for 20 hours a day is hard work.  But as we watch her becoming more independent, a part of us was sad that she is, in this small way, growing up.

Life arrives in seasons.

I think this happens with many of aspects of life and work.  All sorts of things come in seasons, not just weather.

…if current trends continue, I’ll say to myself, I’ll still be in the same place in five years.  I’ll be fighting the same struggles and frustrations I am now.   …and I won’t be able to handle it.

Instead, I need to remember that most of life arrives in waves, like the light and the weather.  There will be struggles and victories, uncertainty and simplicity, more and less.  There will be stable times when it seems like things will always be the same, and times when everything changes all at once.

More importantly, I need to appreciate the seasons.  They are a time to focus, to devote greater attention to a few particulars, to learn gratitude and exercise patience.  They should be enjoyed, because they will certainly pass.  I’ll take the lessons and memories forward, and be better for it–if I have the perspective and openness to learn from the gift of time I’ve been given.

Because life isn’t always an even-tempered journey, and great careers don’t always follow a steady path of predictable growth.

Four things I’m doing to appreciate the seasons in my life:

  • Acknowledge them.  Noticing a string of rainy days is much more discouraging than seeing the first signs of Spring.  Knowing I’ve entered a season allows me to appreciate the present and look forward to the seasons that will surely follow.
  • Have gratitude and perspective.  Every season has it’s joys, even if they’re not obvious–something that I’ve learned since moving to Chicago.  When I find a season stressful, I remember that it will end eventually, and that I can be grateful for the gifts that this time will bring.
  • Make changes, knowing they are temporary.  The equivalent of changing my wardrobe as I start to notice an autumn chill.  If I resist the season, I end up spending more time miserable.  Instead, I try to make a change to allow me to appreciate the season as I find it.

I hope this helps you enjoy the seasons in your life a bit more.  Take care!


What Growth Really Means

I was reflecting this week on why it can be so hard to grow, both for businesses and for individuals.

Growth is never easy.

Fundamentally, growth means change: that you do things differently in the future than you have in the past.

But the difficult thing is this: the things you did in the past probably worked quite well.  They got you to where you are.  You’re comfortable with them.  Your experience has been with these proven habits, techniques, and ideas.

Growth means accepting that circumstances have changed, that your assumptions must now be different.  It means having the humility to look critically at your past successes or failures.  It requires that you take off the limiting viewpoints of your past experience and look with a fresh perspective at where you should go next.

It also means saying goodbye to a set of ideas and practices that have served you well.  Trade -offs are never easy, and growth means trading the uncertainty of the future for the certainty of the present.

And, in the long term, growth means that you have to continue doing this again and again.  That the new ideas you are about to adopt will need to be things you let go of down the line as well.  You will not be able to settle into your final perspective:  you’ll need to keep undergoing the difficult process of thinking critically, making a difficult decision, and pushing forward against uncertainty.

The consolation is this:

Growth is necessary.  It’s hard, and uncomfortable.  But stagnation has a certain outcome that is worse–the guarantee that the rest of the world will pass you by.

Growth removes your limits.  While the uncertainty of the future seems daunting–will I be able to figure out how to succeed with a new set of assumptions??–it is completely unbounded.  When you open yourself to change, there is no limit to where you can grow, if you keep moving, a little at a time.

Growth is exciting.  Here’s the thing:  how many wonderful things would you have missed if you never opened yourself up to a new idea or experience?

A quick story to illustrate: my son is 21 months old.  He’s been eating solid foods for over a year, and he has a few favorites that he never turns down.  But, frequently, we’re offering him something he’s never had before.  This past weekend, for the 5th time, I offered him a bite of an ice cream that I was having–and he, again, refused.

We see ourselves in our kids.  So I wonder: how many times have I refused an amazing experience because I was afraid to try something new?  How rich a life might I miss if I refuse to grow and change?

So open yourself to the changes: you might be amazed at what you were missing.



The One Assumption

One of the funnier situations during business school was the cold call.  A professor with an engaged class would be racing through an intense discussion, getting inputs from around the room, and—usually with a particularly pointed question—call on a student whose mind had wandered.

Usually, in these moments, the student would pause, and thoughtfully say, “It depends.”

And the joke was that the answer to EVERY QUESTION in business is “It depends.”

It’s funny because it’s an easy response to a cold call.  But it’s important, because our decisions always depend on our assumptions.  An implicit idea in business is that people with the same assumptions will share the same answer.

Which means that our assumptions are the most important factor in leading us to a good answer.

And here’s the impact of this statement for those who want to change or grow: first we’ll need to change our belief about one of our assumptions.

Our lenses set our limits.  Fortunately, it’s possible to change our point of view.

Many times, when we ask ourselves what it will take to get from where we are to where we want to be, we start our thinking with an action.  We need to do more, or do something new.  Or we need to stop doing something that is preventing our progress that we love to do.

Instead, we should start with our assumptions.  What are the assumptions that are the foundation of our current state of affairs or position in life?   What belief would have to be different for us to get where we want to go?  How can we change it?  And are we willing to change our beliefs when the situation changes?

Increasingly, I see that an unwillingness to change our mind leads us to be stationary where we are, instead of on the road to reaching our goals.  Our actions flow from our beliefs, from the assumptions we hold to be true and the conclusions we reach as a result.

Here are a few examples:

No one will be interested in what I have to say.

No one would pay me for this product instead of making it themselves.

If I can do this, then anyone else could do it too.

Misjudging these assumptions—particularly with regards to our own unique value—prevents us from taking hold of the exciting possibilities of our lives.  It stops us from reaching our goals and realizing our dreams.

Don’t let outdated beliefs stop you from moving forward.

Leveraging our Strengths

Doesn’t it feel good to be engaged with something you love?

When you’re talking to someone about something that the truly enjoy, their face lights up, their posture improves, their voice quickens—you can tell they’re excited about what they’re talking about, enthusiastic about where the conversation is going.

We love to follow our passions.  But we need to engage carefully to get where want to go.

And when it moves on to a more mundane topic, that spark disappears.

People love to be engaged with their strengths, with the activities that they love.

So why don’t we spend all our time here?

The answer is simple: if something in our life is holding us back from engaging more deeply with the things we’re passionate about, then we need to change something to take the next step.  And change—particularly within ourselves—is really hard.

And here’s the bad news: if something about how we approach our strengths and passions is holding us back, we’ll need to change our relationship to the thing we love most in order to be successful, in order to deepen that relationship in the long term.  Or, if one of our weaknesses is holding us back, we’ll have to spend time on something we don’t like in order to advance our dreams and goals.

Fortunately, we should feel comforted about this–for two key reasons.

First, the most difficult part of taking the next step is realizing the need for change.  Our actions flow from our decisions, from our mindset.  Once we accept that we want to continue to grow at the cost of a change to ourselves, everything else will be easy.

Second, at any given time, there is only one thing holding us back from incremental improvement.  The biggest reason people don’t start an important project is because it seems daunting at the outset. They get discouraged because they don’t have the knowledge, time, or willpower to start.  Overcome this by finding the one, tiny change you can make at zero cost to test your solution.  Lasting success is built on steady, sustainable growth, not dramatic overhauls.  Build your journey with consistent, small steps.

If you’re helping someone else who is facing this problem, remember that their mindset is why they are here.  You can try to change someone’s mind with data or a well-reasoned argument—but only if they are already open to your point of view.  If not, be patient.  Build your relationship.  Be willing to be influenced by them.  Keep your opinions to yourself.  Remember that we learn when we are ready, when we enroll ourselves, not when someone else thinks the time is right.  And be available to your friend on the day when they decide to change their mind.

This blog is my first small step in a new direction.  I love to think and write about personal entrepreneurship, about doing better the things we need and love to do in daily life and work.  I’m using this forum to test whether my insights can help other people, and I’m excited to see where it goes.  Stay tuned!