Room to Fail

You might remember Gen. Stanley McChrystal. He said a few things that got him in trouble, fired even. I know how that feels. McChrystal shared about his leadership experiences in the military, including addressing the possibility of failure in a TED talk [15:38]. Watch if you have the time.

“Leaders can let you fail, and yet not let you be a failure” – Stanley McChrystal

He talks about a very profound moment in his own leadership journey. He had just completed and failed a military exercise. During debriefing, or as McChrystal calls it, “leadership by humiliation,” a commander gives hime some encouragement and it totally changes McChrystal’s perspective of the exercise. “Leaders can let you fail, and yet not let you be a failure.”

I love perfection. There is nothing more beautiful than a plan executed as designed and reaping the expected result. I can recount numerous times that didn’t happen with those serving under my leadership. They failed at times, at least to some degree. I don’t think I ever did a great job of utilizing the potential available in the failure.

In our culture, we are so eager to move up, so ready to step over those that stumble ahead of us, there is no room to fail. I have been crushed under the yoke of failure this past year. How can we make room for failure in our workplaces, families, and communities? Without making room to failure, we set up a culture that is doomed to never succeed at anything. The fear of failure will cost us everything.

I won’t be afraid. Will you?

Lessons From Vacation

Over spring break my family spent some time in Chicago for a few days. My daughter had learned some about dinosaurs in her kindergarten class earlier this year and we thought it would be great for her to see an actual dinosaur, Sue, at the Field Museum. We also spent a day at the Shedd Aquarium. Christina and I have been to both as recently as 2008, but Carissa was only 6 month old, so it was all new to her. Both kids loved it!


While at the aquarium, we watched the aquatic show and they’ve added in a segment about their new dog training program. Shedd selects dogs from local shelters for their program to be trained and used at the aquarium and to show how their training methods can work on household pets, too. They said something during the show that is still with me regarding how they use positive reinforcement training methods. “An animal here will never hear the word ‘no’ or be punished.” Never. That’s amazing to me, considering I have a toddler and feel like a say no all the time. I was intrigued and had to look more into their program.

It seems like an impossible task. Never say the word “no.” No punishments. One of the trainers described why they do it like this: “If you punish them they’ll just swim away and they’ll never want to work with you again.” It’s just a dolphin though, right?

“If you punish them they’ll just swim away and they’ll never want to work with you again.”

I think people are the same way. I had at experience at work last week that connected this for me. Here at MachMotion, we strive to celebrate lived out examples of our core values. In only my third week here, I’ve heard multiple people commended for going the extra mile or showing integrity in a situation. However, last week it happened to me. I was complimented in front of everyone at our morning meeting. Positive reinforcement!

How much further can we build trust and relationship with someone by a positive comment than a negative one? Research shows the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio to be almost 6 positive comments for every negative one. I’ve heard this said before but I’m thankful to see this actually lived out at my workplace.

It makes me think, how do I treat people? Am I generous enough with positive comments to those around me (my wife or kids, friends, or coworkers)?

Smarter than the CIA?

This is fascinating to me. NPR ran a story today about a program called The Good Judgment Project. Briefly, random citizens have made better national security decisions than the CIA.

The collective can make better decisions than an individual. I love that in an effort to prove the ‘crowd’ is stupid, the exact opposite was found. There’s mathematically proven truth in every overused, cliche teamwork quote.

Collective wisdom wins. Lone rangers fall behind.


My kids’ favorite song right now:

 Happiness is interesting, don’t you think? Most everyone wants to happy, attempting to get there many different ways. Money, love, hobbies…the list goes on.

NPR TED Radio Hour interviewed Pharrell Williams (above) as part of a show on finding happiness.  He had some sage advice:

“Be appreciative.”

Pharrell may be more profound than he realizes. In the same radio show, they also spoke with a Benedictine monk named Brother David who said something very similar answering a classic chicken-egg question. “Gratefulness does not come from being happy. Happiness comes from being grateful.”

Gratefulness has had a large role in my journey this last year. I spent a lot of my time angry about where I was at the moment. It wasn’t until I could stop and sincerely appreciate the good things happening in my life that I began to see things differently. For a while, I wasn’t happy about working at Lowe’s, but I came around to be very grateful for the opportunity to work and receive a paycheck.

The stopping part is hard. Our lives are so busy and fast paced. A race everyday to become faster, leaner, more efficient, and productive. Brother David had something to add regarding this point. “We have to build stop signs into our lives.” It’s not enough to be grateful every once in a while, when the opportunity lands in our lap. We need make the opportunities happen. How often should you do this? Start with more than you are now. Try to stop and be silent a few times a week. Maybe even daily. Get quiet for a minute and be thankful for something. Then, see what happens.