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Mistakes Aren’t Bad

 

Nobody’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of life. While nobody likes making mistakes they are not necessarily a bad thing. You may have discovered that one of the best things about mistakes is it is one of the best learning experiences you can have.

For the most part, we try to avoid making mistakes. Why?  Because when we fail we experience pain. Pain is a remarkable driving force in our lives. According to the science of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) our brains are wired to focus 80% on avoiding pain, and 20% on moving toward pleasure. We automatically approach the situations in our lives out of a fear of what could go wrong. Our background conversation and attention is on, “what’s the danger here?”  And that leaves us trying to avoid making mistakes ~ avoiding the shame, the embarrassment of a mistake, and generally avoiding the pain. So we attempt to strategize how to not make mistakes.  But the truth is it’s impossible to avoid making mistakes. Carl Jung said “what we resist, persists.” And our observation is that the more you try to avoid making mistakes the more likely you will make them. You might be better off doing your best and dealing the mistakes when they happen.

There are some very famous, successful people in history who failed miserably many times over. Almost everyone can name the man that invented the light bulb. Thomas Edison was one of the most successful innovators in American history. He was the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” a larger-than-life hero who seemed almost magical for the way he snatched ideas from thin air.

Chances are you haven’t heard of Edison’s botched ideas ~ he had many, many failures, (estimated over 10,000 failed experiments).  But Edison didn’t dwell on them. It’s been said, “Edison’s not a guy that looks back. Even for his biggest failures he didn’t spend a lot of time wringing his hands and saying ‘Oh my God, we spent a fortune on that.’ He said, ‘we had fun spending it.’”

And Abraham Lincoln failed at many things before becoming President. In 1831 Lincoln failed in business; 1832 he was defeated for state legislator; 1833 tried a new business and failed; 1835 his fiancée died; 1836 he had a nervous breakdown; 1843 ran for Congress and failed and again in 1848; in 1855 he ran for Senate and failed. In 1856 he ran for Vice President and lost. Then in 1860 he was elected President of the United States. What matters is not how many times he failed, but how many times he never stopped trying.

In my business, in my clients’ businesses, the greatest learning happens from failures.

At our firm we let our employees know that mistakes are not only tolerated, we encourage them, especially with new people who are trying to make a good impression. At the same time, we encourage them to learn from the mistakes and not repeat the same ones. There are so many other possible mistakes to be made. There really is a lot of value in making mistakes. Though it’s painful to make a mistake, there is much more pain having not made a mistake. People will make mistakes. Trying to avoid them is the first mistake. Use the mistake to make a difference. And don’t repeat that mistake.  Go ahead, make the next one instead.

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Getting Out of Overwhelm

Overwhelm is something everyone deals with. There will always be many, many tasks for us to resolve. The list of tasks doesn’t get smaller, it grows and it’s infinite. And we all know that it’s not possible to get all of the tasks done. Sometimes we find ourselves with too much on our plates, and we begin to feel overwhelmed. In those moments we see no way of getting any of it done. When we become overwhelmed we are ineffective. The feeling of overwhelm has its own inertia. It becomes larger than life, halting all action. It becomes a condition in which you never get anything done, and you’re upset about it. You are stuck. And while you’re busy being stuck you will surely fail. It’s like trying to move forward while running on a circular track.

You can handle and manage the demand on your capacity until you reach one more unit that puts you in a state of overwhelm.  In the second diagram below the demand has exceeded your capacity ~ that’s when overwhelm takes over, and when you’re in a state of overwhelm you’re never going to get it all done.

What does OVERWHELM look like?

(All the squares represent your total capacity. “X” equals one unit of capacity)

 

 

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                                            (The large X = OVERWHELM)                                                                                         

Before that point your available capacity is manageable. When that one more item is added you hit the overload, overwhelm condition that puts you over the top and beyond your ability, your capacity, to manage the tasks at hand.  The definition of “overwhelm” is: bury or drown beneath a huge mass.

How can you be powerful in the face of overwhelm?   What are you doing to get out of that condition?  An American soldier, Creighton Abrams first said, “How you eat an elephant is one bite at a time”. And it’s true. Everything we have to do can be broken down into manageable and finite units. Until you break the mass apart into these units you will never get anything done, because you will be buried in the mass of the story about what you can’t get done. You either delegate some of the tasks or cancel them. What’s essential is to get things to a level that is confrontable.  Overwhelm is a psychological phenomenon. It is not “real”. All that is are the tasks that you will do and the tasks you will not do. It’s our psychology that has us believing that we have to get allof the tasks done.

Once we prioritize the importance of each item, get each item into your calendar, in real time to deal with it. In fact, when you consider the whole list of things to do, you’re going to see something really interesting ~ there are things you are committed to doing, and there are things that you’re really not committed to doing. You may find some things you may want to get to at a later time, so create a way of keeping those things in existence. You’ll also find there are some things you really will never get to. Eliminate them. Keep in mind that life occurs in units of time ~ you have the capacity to fill only so many units of time.  You either have to stop doing one of the things you’re already doing, or give away ~ outsource ~ some things. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Is it a good investment to outsource any given item?” If it is, and you find the right person to outsource to, you are left with time to work on the things that you should be working on, while experiencing relief knowing that the other things are being done by someone you trust. This then leaves you stress-free, effective, confident and productive.

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Being the Bigger Person Makes You a Bigger Person

So often in life we get caught up in insignificant matters that really don’t make any difference. And getting caught up in those things takes us off our game. It can be very distracting and unproductive. There’s an art to living life is such a way that you consistently score 3-pointers because you’ve got your game organized to produce high scores. It takes being a bigger person ~ not only in the significant matters, but in the smaller matters as well. Being big about something is an art, requires skill and thoughtfulness.

Here’s an example ~ the other day I was having lunch with a client at a restaurant near his place of business. After we took a quick look at the menu the waitress came. I ordered Chicken Romano Salad, which I almost always order at this restaurant, and my client ordered Salmon with Rigatoni. While we were engaged in a great conversation the waitress came with our meals and placed the Chicken Romano Salad in front of me, and a Chicken Romano Salad in front of my client. There was an awkward moment while we looked down, and seeing what had happened I said, “that doesn’t look like Salmon with Rigatoni to me”, at which point the waitress reached for his plate to make the correction. My client simply said, “no, this will be fine. It’s something new and I’d like to try it.” She made another attempt, and he assured her he was satisfied with the plate that was in front of him. When she walked away, I looked at him and commented, “My god, that was amazing.” He really didn’t know why I thought so. I told him that I have been out with many, many people and could anticipate that that “error” would have become a major issue for them making a big scene over it. I have witnessed a meltdown over much less. He said that after I had ordered the Chicken Romano Salad, he wondered if maybe he should try it, too. We both got a laugh, and I said, “you willed it here”. Given what had just happened I told him, “I want to appreciate something about you, Ken, and that is your ability to be a big person and not get hooked by inconsequential things. You focus on what matters. And that’s a great attribute of yours.” I have known Ken for 15 years and have never seen him be anything but dignified and gracious ~ probably why he is so good at his job and a strong leader. It was a perfect example of someone being bigger than the situation and being a bigger person. It’s easy for any of us to be small. And at the same time, it’s takes something on our part to be big about anything.

Conversely, I was having dinner with a client recently (who happened to be a woman) and unbeknownst to me she had experience in the restaurant business. Consequently, she had pretty high standards and since this was a nice restaurant she felt entitled to expect the highest level of service. But what I noticed and what ensued was a series of tirades correcting the waiter ~ everything he did was wrong. We had ordered slowly, several times actually because she was sure that the waiter didn’t understand what she was saying. He did. Additionally, she had ordered a “special appetizer” that she said would take a while to prepare. She instructed the waiter that her Caesar salad be served before the appetizer. Of course, the appetizer came first. She “ate” the guy. The guy couldn’t have been genuinely sorrier or more apologetic. The salad was soggy. She had ordered splitting two entrees which she explained three times and spoke to him like he was an idiot. She just lit into the guy and she wouldn’t back off. She just wouldn’t let go. It was embarrassing ~ I wanted to crawl under the table.

After her 3rd “attack” of this poor guy, she turned to me and said, “can you see why I’m single?” She was joking but there was a lot of truth in it. Even she recognized how awful she was being and she could tell I was uncomfortable … that prompted my making the request that follows. “I have a request of you ~ be nice to the waiter for the rest of the meal. It’s making me very uncomfortable. Would you just be nice to him?” I explained to her that he was just a great waiter and didn’t sign up for the Michelin test tonight. From that point on she was really great to him. She apologized. It took my request that she back off to get her to be the bigger person.

It can go either way. It’s a choice ~ how we react, respond to any given situation is a choice. And it takes practice and discipline to develop the muscle I’ll call “being the bigger person”. Generally, we react in “fight or flight” mode. It’s an instinctive response to protect ourselves from real or perceived threats. But after a few deep breaths, we usually discover that most of what’s coming at us is not a threat at all, and we have a choice about how we’ll respond.

We have an automatic response to “being right” ~ something that is dear to most people. Being the bigger person sometimes means that we apologize even when we’re sure we’re right. It’s a very generous act. At some point we need to consider what’s really important ~ moving things forward or being right? We always have a choice of striking out with our righteousness or letting it go for the sake of what’s possible. Being the bigger person makes you a bigger person.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.
Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: scarpenter@leaderacg.com