TalentedApps

We put the Talent in Applications

  • Authors

  • Blog Stats

    • 611,364 hits
  • Topics

  • Archives

  • Fistful of Talent Top Talent Management blogs
    Alltop, all the top stories

Archive for the ‘failure’ Category

Promoting and Poisoning Change

Posted by Ken Klaus on February 6, 2011

And now, at last, we come to the final post in this series.  Thanks for sticking with me.  We’ve already covered the necessity of choice as well as the catalysts and essential elements that ignite and fuel the transformation process.  Previously we also noted that there were agents that amplify and weaken the transformation process.  These agents are called promoters and poisons; and what is true in chemistry is also true in our personal and vocational lives.  There are attitudes, ideas, and people that can strengthen and support our efforts or can resist, even spoil our endeavors.  Though these agents will differ depending on our objectives and personal circumstances, I do think there are some that will always be present.

Let’s start with the agents that poison the transformation process.  Chief among them, I think, is cynicism.  A cynic is distrustful of someone else’s ideas or motives; but cynicism does not necessarily need to be directed outwardly, toward others; it can also be aimed inwardly, at our own thoughts and intentions.  Now questioning our ideas and motives is certainly a part of the decision making process; but cynicism is not the same as honest reflection.  Cynicism becomes an end in itself.  It is designed to obstruct and incapacitate.  A cynic, including our own inner pessimist, is only concerned with why something cannot be done, and does care to offer ideas on how to reach our goal. Cynicism is static.  It stands still, frozen in time, incapable of action.  Whereas idealism moves us forward.  It chooses to act and embraces change.

Another agent that is toxic to change is perfectionism.  Perfectionism poisons our efforts in two ways.  The first sounds something like this: “You’ll never get everything sorted out the way you want it, so why bother trying.”  There’s a truth hidden in this lie that makes it hard to dispute, which is why we so often accept it at face value.  The truth being that we will never get everything sorted out.  Life is complicated and messy and there are too many components to account for all the possibilities; but the lie comes in the assertion that we shouldn’t try.  Human history has shown that progress is dependent on the attempt, even if that effort ends in failure the first, second, tenth or hundredth time.  Success is built on failure.  If we don’t try we can’t fail. If we don’t fail we will never succeed.

The other way perfectionism poisons our efforts sounds something like this: “You’re doing it all wrong?”  Second-guessing every decision, critiquing every step you make, brooding over the other choices, the ones you “should” have made, becomes a drag, a literal weight, on the transformation process.  We lose momentum and, more importantly, we lose focus.  We spend our time drifting among the “what-ifs” and the path forward turns into a maze of endless possibilities.  A choice is a choice and once we make it we need to move forward, whether it leads to failure or to success.  When we choose to move to a new location, then we must leave our old homes behind.  When we choose to start a new career, then we must leave our old jobs behind.  When we choose to follow our own dreams, then we must give up the dreams that others have for us.   In the end we can either risk a change, and move forward with our lives, or we can play it safe and remain where we are; but if we choose the latter then we surrender all hope of ever finding any real meaning or purpose in life.

Which brings us finally to the agents, which facilitate, enhance and strengthen our efforts to change and perhaps also those things, which give meaning and purpose to our lives: optimism and connectionOptimism is so much more than “positive-thinking.”  Optimism is rooted in honesty and action.  We cannot simply hope that things will work out for the best; we must act and we must do so honestly.  When we fail – and we will – we must choose to persist, to move forward, and not simply fall back into the old routines.  We pause, re-evaluate, and adjust our course; driven not by perfectionism, but from an honest awareness that our first instinct may not always be the right way to go.  We all have a blindside when it comes to making decisions because we tend to overvalue our intuition.  We trust our gut more than is reasonable or rational.  Dan Ariely proves this point over and over again in his books Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality.  In the decision making process we are rarely (if ever) rational.  This means we need others to help broaden our viewpoint, to challenge our assumptions, and to support our choices.  Not cynics, but honest, invested, objective individuals who can help inform our decisions without undue influence or hidden motives.

Here is where connection becomes an essential agent in helping to promote and sustain meaningful change.  Having others – friends, family, and colleagues – who can offer honest, objective insight is critical.  Our natural – meaning irrational – decision making process is nearly impossible to overcome, even when we know we are being unreasonable.  We have only to look at our histories, the patterns in our lives that repeat over and over again to see this is true.  Though the final decision must be ours, having others in our lives who are willing to debate, disagree, and suggest other possibilities seriously ups our chances for success.  In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brene Brown makes this point clear.

Connection [is] the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.  One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on “going it alone.”  Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone.  Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves.  It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.”  The truth is we are both.

Change – meaningful, sustained transformation – will likely prove to be the hardest and the most rewarding venture we can embark upon; and reclaiming our lives and our vocations and our dreams may require a significant and fundamental transformation in how we think about ourselves and our place and purpose in this world.  But the risk, by comparison, is small.  Because if our lives and vocations and dreams are not already our own, then what can we loose by choosing to leave them behind in search of a more authentic and meaningful life?

Posted in change, failure, goals | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Elements of Change

Posted by Ken Klaus on January 30, 2011

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve looked at the catalysts for change as well as the role choice plays in igniting the transformation process.  And though our failures often inspire us to make a change, motivation alone will not be enough to nurture and sustain our goal over the long-term.  Transformation requires more than just the spark of inspiration, it needs fuel, and this energy source must come from within.  No external source – whether family, friends, or institutions – will ever be strong enough, will ever last long enough, to see us through to the end.  This elemental fuel comes from within and when it is purposefully applied leads us from good intentions to meaningful actions.  These elements are courage, risk, and honesty.

Courage is almost always understood in the context of fear, and whereas courage is understood as a virtue, fear is usually regarded as a weakness.  Courage, however, is not the absence of fear and without fear courage has no value.  A. C. Grayling makes this point in his book, Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age.  “Moreover, courage can only be felt by those who are afraid.  If a man is truly fearless as he leaps over the enemy parapet or hurls himself into a rugby tackle, he is not courageous.  Because most people fail to recognize this simple fact, the true quantum of heroism in the world goes unrecognised and therefore unrewarded.  The quaking public speaker, the trembling amateur actor, the nervous hospital patient submitting himself to needles and scalpels, are all manifesting courage.  ‘This is courage in a man,’ Eurpides further said, ‘to bear what heaven sends.’  Actually he said ‘to bear unflinchingly’, but by this addition he spoils the sentiment, because if courage requires fear, then flinching is perfectly in order.”

Fear, I think, is a gift and like failure it is often a great motivator.  But motivation is not enough.  We have to act and acting requires courage.  Most of us fear change; but if lasting, meaningful transformation is our goal then we must stand our ground.  We must courageously – not fearlessly – face each new day.  We must act in spite of our fear and not make the mistake of waiting until we are unafraid.

Closely allied to courage is risk.  Risk is frequently associated with chance or with what we cannot see or anticipate; and I think the underlying emotion tied to risk is vulnerability.  Vulnerability, like fear, is often seen as a weakness.  It is something we work very hard to hide from others.  A thousand years ago this was part of our survival instinct.  Living behind walls of stone was far safer than dwelling in a thatched cottage in the middle of a wheat field.  But there’s also a positive, even necessary, side to vulnerability, which I only just discovered this past week while browsing through the presentations on TED.com.  Quite accidently I stumbled upon an inspiring and deeply insightful presentation by Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability.  If you have the time I encourage you to listen to this presentation.  In fact, if you’re short on time, I suggest you stop reading right here and just head over to TED.com.  The central idea in Dr. Brown’s presentation is that without vulnerability we cannot be whole, we cannot feel connected, we cannot ever fully be ourselves, and I would add, we cannot really change.  Here again failure presents us with an opportunity – not for shame, which is far too often the case – but an opportunity to be open, to be vulnerable, to risk taking a different path.  But if we shun this feeling, if we reject openness, connection, compassion and courage, then the opportunity for change will be lost.  We will remain stuck in the routines and patterns that lead us back again and again to the same failures.  Courage, then, is not only a friend to the fearful, but also to all those who would embrace vulnerability and risk change.  But courage alone will not be enough.

Vulnerability also requires honesty.  Self-awareness is the key to our ability to be honest, both with ourselves and with others.  What we do not know about ourselves we cannot possibly hope to change.  In the first act of Hamlet, as Laertes was setting off for France, his father Polonius enjoins him, “This above all: To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou cans’t not be false to any man.”  But from the day we are born we are taught the very opposite of this truism: Follow the rules.  Be like everyone else.  Don’t be different.  Go along to get along.  And sadly we do, without even realizing it, until we no longer know who we are or what we want.  And we spend our lives chasing only the shadow of our dreams because we have come to believe that our real dreams are too ambitions, to unconventional, too silly, too impractical, too whatever.  But coming to truly understand who we are, and what we want, and why both of these things are important, opens us to the possibility for real change.  James Hollis makes the following observation in his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up.

Some of us, understandably, do not wish to hear even this message of hope and personal growth.  We wish to have our old world, our former assumptions and stratagems reinstituted as quickly as possible.  Most of us live our lives backing into our future, making the choices of each new moment from the data and agenda of the old – and then we wonder why repetitive patterns turn up in our lives.  Our dilemma was best described in the nineteenth century by the Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard when he noted in his journal the paradox that life must be remembered backward but lived forward.  Is it not self-deluding, then, to keep doing the same thing but expecting different results?

For those willing to stand in the heat of this transformational fire, the second half of life provides a shot at getting themselves back again.  They might still fondly gaze at the old world, but they risk engaging a larger world, one more complex, less safe, more challenging, the one that is already irresistibly hurtling toward them.

Paradoxically, this summons asks us to begin taking ourselves more seriously than ever before, but in a different way than before.  Such self-examination cannot proceed without, for instance, more honesty than we have been capable of.  Living within a constricted view of our journey, and identifying with old defensive strategies, we unwittingly become the enemies of our own growth, our own largeness of soul, through our repetitive history-bound choices.

Change – genuine, meaningful transformation – is hard and often requires heroic effort, which is why the virtues so often associated with heroes include courage, risk, and honesty.  Fear and failure may prove to be the motivation behind our efforts to change, but without these other essential elements we cannot hope to maintain the commitment – the fire – required over the days, weeks, months or years it may take to reach our goals.  Be courageous and stand your ground; choose risk over comfort – embrace vulnerability; and be faithful to yourself and to your dreams.  These are the elements that will sustain and nurture your transformation.

Posted in failure, fear, goals, risk | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Catalysts for Change

Posted by Ken Klaus on January 24, 2011

Change most frequently happens for a reason.  Transformation is intentional.  The natural adaptations that take place over tens of thousands of years are driven by something external to the organism – new predators, alterations in the climate, dwindling sources of food – which compel a change and ensure the plant or animal can not only survive, but thrive.  The same is true in chemistry, where the application of a catalyst – reagents[1] of change – can be used to enhance or even accelerate transformation.  Agents that hasten a reaction are called positive catalysts; while those that hinder or block changes are called inhibitors.  In addition other substances can be used in combination with a catalyst to either promote or poison its effectiveness.[2]

Though adaptation and survival are common reasons for change, there are occasions when change is driven not by some external force, but from within – by choice.  We choose to adapt, not because we have to, but because we want to.  And more often than not our choices are fueled and energized by a catalyst – a force that accelerates our will and gets us moving.  The most common catalyst for making a change, I think, is failure.  But almost universally failure is perceived as a negative, something to be avoided, a source of shame and regret.  We laud success and shun those who fail.  We link our value as employees and individuals directly to our successes or to our failures.  But success and failure are two sides of the same coin.  We cannot have one without the other.  To succeed we must fail – at least some of the time.  This means failure too has value; we need to fail if we ever hope to succeed.

The gift of failure is the opportunity to make a change.  As a catalyst for change, failure is unique because its transformative properties are only revealed when we make a choice – whether to persist along the same path until we succeed or to look for a new path because the one we are traveling has proven to be a dead-end.  Transformation – sustained, meaningful change – must begin with a choice.  If we fail and do nothing, then the opportunity for change is lost.  The catalytic power inherent in all failure can only be realized through the application of choice.

But choosing is only the first step, the spark that ignites the catalyst.  Change – true transformation – involves far more than just decision-making.  It requires risk, courage, honesty and perseverance.  Bigger, more important changes, may also call for promoters – like optimism, inspiration and collaboration – to increase the power of our actions.  And we must also be careful not to introduce inhibitors or poisons, like doubt, distraction and perfectionism.  Over the coming weeks I want to explore the reagents of change – risk, courage, and honesty – as well as the things that help to promote, inhibit and poison our efforts to change.  But as a starting point I would like to suggest that we must first begin to see failure not as the opposite of success, but as an opportunity for change.  Too often failure is used as a weapon, to demoralize and devalue, and we wield this truncheon against others and ourselves alike.  But we are worth so much more than the sum of our accomplishments; and even when we fail our value is never diminished.  Failure may be the end of an endeavor, or it may be the next step on the path to success.  The choice is ours.


[1] In organic chemistry, reagents are compounds or mixtures, usually composed of inorganic or small organic molecules that are used to affect a transformation on an organic substrate.  Wikipedia, Reagent.

[2] Catalysis is the change in rate of a chemical reaction due to the participation of a substance called a catalyst. Unlike other reagents that participate in the chemical reaction, a catalyst is not consumed by the reaction itself. Catalysts that speed the reaction are called positive catalysts. Substances that interact with catalysts to slow the reaction are called inhibitors (or negative catalysts). Substances that increase the activity of catalysts are called promoters, and substances that deactivate catalysts are called catalytic poisons.  Wikipedia, Catalysis

Posted in failure, risk, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Focus on Failure!

Posted by Mark Bennett on February 6, 2010

funny dog picturesNo, this is not advice to try to fail, but rather if (and when) you do fail, you’ll want to expend some time, thought and energy into actively learning from that failure. This is hinted at by an interesting finding from some neuroscience research done at MIT, which has implications not only for individuals, but organizations as well.

The research showed that the part of the brain that tracks success and failure appears to change and process more efficiently after success, but not after failure. What does that mean for us? Here’s a telling quote from the HBR article citing the research:

“But after failure,” Miller points out, “there was little change in brain activity.” In other words, the brain didn’t store any information about what went wrong and use it the next time. The monkey just tried, tried again.

In other words, left to its own devices, our brains will likely not learn from failure. Fortunately, we have the ability to recognize that fact and take steps to correct it. We can pause after failure and seriously ponder what went wrong – what was the cause of the failure? But that takes time, thought and energy to figure it out.

Now, consider what you might be short of in an organizational culture dominated by fear. That’s correct; there’s never enough time, don’t stop to think – act, and the energy generated by fear is more typically applied to shift the blame or hide the failure than in learning from the failure. So, without Psychological Safety, as Victorio puts it, you get a compounded problem with failure. First, as we already know, people will be averse to taking risk in general. That means fewer opportunities for innovation, profit, etc. Secondly, when failure does occur, its ability to even have any positive learning effect at all is almost entirely wiped out. No learning occurs automatically and, since more effort is spent hiding the failure or shifting the blame, no learning from thinking through the failure occurs either. Since no one sees any benefit from taking the risk, the cycle is reinforced and even fewer risks are taken and even less learning occurs.

However, if your organization has tolerance for thoughtful risk-taking, the cycle can be turned positive. Just recognize that a bit more effort is required to make a failure become a learning experience. Avoid what happens to the monkeys!

Posted in failure, fear, learning, risk, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 12 Comments »