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Rose-colored glasses: our bias of success over failure

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This site has made many references to Seth Godin.  Seth is a great guy and has a great blog.  He is a serial entrepreneur, author of 11 books (so far), and a marketing genius.  He is highly influential in the business community.  He has degrees in computer science, philosophy, and an MBA from Stanford.

Nice to see that Seth has an article this months (September) Harvard Business Review.

Seth’s article in HBR is about Redefining Failure.

I am continually amazed by the wide variation in individuals assessment of what counts as success and what counts as failure.  For some, being average is “good enough”.  For others, this will never do.  For your son or daughter in school, is a C average “good enough”?  Or, is straight A’s the standard?  Do you just want to get by?  Or, do you want the change the world?  For some, enough is never enough.

Recently, I heard President Obama ask an affluent person, “Don’t you have enough”?  The answer should have been, “No, I don’t”.  Is there a cap on achievement or accomplishment?  Is there a cap on what you should invent, develop, or build?

Did they tell the people who built great cities, “Hey wait, that is too much! – Stop now!”.  If so, there would never be places like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.  Did they tell the folks in Chicago that the Sears tower was too tall?  Did they tell the Pharaohs in Egypt, “Hey, those pyramids at Giza, too big, too tall, too beautiful, and they will last too long.  Stop your building now!”  Did the Beatles (or the Rolling Stones, or U2) write too many songs, have too many concerts?  Did too many people listen to their music?

Much of what counts as achievement is hard-wired or built-in as pre-cognitive positions of individuals.  By pre-cognitive I mean that there is no rational argument that you can present to someone who thinks that “average” is acceptable to convince this person otherwise.

“Good is the Enemy of Great” – Jim Collins

If you are reading HBR you are probably one of the “enough is never enough” people.  And so, the article by Seth Godin in the September issue is going to fit in perfectly.  The title of the article is Redefining Failure.

The point of the article is simple.  We don’t define failure broadly enough.  If what spurs action is failure, and if we have a definition of failure that is too narrow, then many things that look like not-failure are missed opportunities and the slow slide into mediocrity.

From the article:

One surefire way we’ve found to avoid failing is to narrowly define what failure is-in other words, to treat almost everything that happens as a non-failure.  If the outcome of our efforts isn’t a failure, there’s no need to panic, is there? Failure creates urgency. Failure gets you fired. Failure cannot stand; it demands a response. But the status quo is simply embraced and, incredibly, protected.

Seven new ways to think about failure

From the HBR article:

If you care about your company, your customers, and the meaning of value, you’ll care enough to reexamine your definition of failure. Here are a few types to consider adding to the mix:

  1. Design failure. If your product or service is misdesigned, then people don’t understand it, don’t purchase it, or may even harm themselves when they use it, and you have failed.
  2. Failure of opportunity. If your assets are poorly deployed, ignored, or decaying, it’s as if you are destroying them, and you have failed.
  3. Failure of trust. If you waste stakeholders’ good will and respect by taking shortcuts in exchange for short-term profits, you have failed.
  4. Failure of will. If your organization prematurely abandons important work because of internal resistance or a temporary delay in market adoption, you have failed.
  5. Failure of priorities. If your management team chooses to focus on work that doesn’t create value, t hat’s like sending cash directly to your competitors. and you have failed.
  6. Failure to quit . If your organization sticks with a mediocre idea, facility,or team too long because it lacks the guts to create something better, you have failed.
  7. Failure of respect. If you succeed without treating your people, your customers, and your resources with respect and honesty, you have failed.

Seth really has eight modes of failure for you to add to the mix.  The best is the last

And. of course, the most self-referential form of failure is failure to see when you are failing.


Written by frrl

August 31, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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