Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Failure *is* an option

I'm going to go out on a limb to make a bold statement: humans aren't perfect. I know, I know, call me a radical. This statement may be as shocking as when people claimed the world was round, and not flat. Or, that the Earth revolves around the sun and not vice-versa.

And since people aren't perfect, they make mistakes. I personally, learn more from my mistakes than from my successes. To that end, let's just say I'm a very wise man for that very reason.

Does that mean that since we know that we make mistakes that we shouldn't try to be successful? No, I'm not suggesting that at all.

In my professional life, I've managed hundreds of people (not all at the same time) and I've enjoyed watching many of them grow and learn. It's wonderful to see them master their craft over time. As they were learning, did they make mistakes? Heck, yeah. It was those that learned from these mistakes that ended up being successful.

Sadly, from my point of view, we are moving to a world where if you aren't "prefect", you aren't successful. I've heard it called the "Hero or Zero" philosophy. And it's a shame. No one can be the hero all the time.

Except for maybe this guy:

At one of my jobs, the company was really coming down on the employees to hit some lofty goals--not just some, but all of them. Even if you were a "rock star" (their term) in 4 of the 5 areas, you were still considered a failure. They even went as far as to adopt a new motto: "Failure is not an option."

Here's another wild concept: not being perfect isn't the same as being a failure. I think that is worth repeating: not being perfect isn't the same as being a failure.

Still need convincing? Have you noticed how "Fail" has become a popular term for something that didn't turn out right? And it was really bad? It's an "Epic Fail".

Yet, this takes it to another level:

This concept of "all or nothing" was driven home to me when one of my teams was audited by the company operations person. After spending two days going over all our records, it was time for her to review her findings. Overall, we did very well--aside from one document. On this particular document, several items needed to be recorded everyday along with the initials and date. There were lines for several days, so you could have around 50 entries on a single paper.

On one of the entries, the person filling it out put the date in the wrong format. Instead of putting 12 March, they wrote 3/12.

The auditor said that because of that mistake, that whole document was a failure. I asked, "So, you are telling me that because of one little mistake (that basically said the same thing), we're getting a failing grade on the whole document?"

The answer was, "Yes, it has to be perfect."

I was obviously upset by this close minded thinking. We continued down the rest of the audit, where we had done very well. Then, toward the bottom, I noticed a typo in one of her sentences.

I turned the paper around on the desk and pointed to it. Her response was, "So what? It's a typo, you still know what it means."

My response? I grabbed a red pen, circled the typo, and then in big letters at the top wrote "FAIL".

I handed it to her and said, "Sorry, but it has to be perfect."

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