Try, Try, Try Again …

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas A. Edison note:  Commonly attributed to Edison and certainly in-line with his tone and things he often spoke about.

First , Edison’s statement is one of great optimism

Many people view failure as … well, as failure.  Failure is a negative state, a loss, a set-back, a “fail” in the current culture.   

Our society tends to idolize winners and ignore or even castigate losers.  For proof, see most advertising. 

Optimism, especially in the face of failure, might be seen as either a total disregard for reality or a sign of inner strength.  It can be either, depending on the person.

Second, Edison is a phenomenal failure

Based on Malcolm Gladwell‘s idea in Outliers that we need to do something for 10, 000 hours to become a “phenom” or expert at it, Edison is apparently a phenom on failing:)

Just because you do something a whole bunch does not always make you what you do.

You are more than what you do.  You are more than what others see.  Only you knows the completeness of you.

Third, the value of failing is only as high as what you do with your failure.

Edison used what he learned from all those failures to continue to learn and to seek new ways that worked better than before.  

Maybe Edward Deming got his concepts from examples like Edison, who appears to personify continuous improvement.

Bottom Line:

As leaders, managers, or just someone trying to make a difference, we should develop the ability to persist.  Take the mistakes and the setback as learning experiences, and not personal disasters.

If you can create a culture where failure is not just tolerated, but viewed as a learning strategy, you will do well.

Learning tons of stuff from all the failures I’ve had in the Heartland ….


Keep Everyone Close …

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Mario Puzo   The Godfather, Part II  

Footnote from Often misattributed to Sun Tzu, it is actually spoken by the character Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II. The quote begins, “My father taught me many things here…he taught me in this room. He taught me…”

Ahhh, The Godfather … as Tom Hanks so memorably tells us in “You’ve Got Mail“:

Joe Fox: The Godfather is the I-ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” What day of the week is it? “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.” 

… and the featured quote is simply more evidence of this.

Keeping our friends close is probably a no-brainer.

We need the support of those who we trust and draw energy from the closeness of intimacy.  When you already consider someone an ally, shared moments only bring you closer to them, for the most part.

It’s easy to keep our friends close, because we seek that closeness.  Facebook allows us to reconnect and stay in connection with friends from long ago and far away.   This is a major part of the appeal of social media networking in general.

Keeping our enemies closer is somewhat more counter-intuitive.

We usually do not enjoy close contact with our enemies.  We may respect them in some ways, but we do not like being around them.  So why should we do so, based on advice from a fictional character in a movie?

1)  Closeness can provide opportunities to learn about others and to develop more nuanced relationships.  Interacting with others in proximity provides valuable lessons in the range and variety of behaviors and emotions which exist in every human.   

2)  Keeping everyone in your world close breaks down the myth that friends are close and others are not.  We live in a world of change and yesterday’s enemy is sometimes tomorrow’s valued ally.

3)  Doing so challenges the traditional perception of what an enemy is.   While I think it simplistic to say things like “A stranger is just a friend you have not yet met”, we do have to acknowledge how getting to know someone changes your perceptions of that person, often in positive ways.

After all, getting to know people who are different from you is a basic tool in fighting stereotyping, prejudice, bias, and discrimination, isn’t it?

Trying to make room for everyone in the Heartland ….


Feeling That Good Kind of Pain …

“There are no gains without pains.”

Be relieved that I used a graphic to illustrate this and not a picture of me exercising.  Some gains are not worth the pain;).

Well, this is a fairly well-known saying, partly due to its paraphrased adoption by a commercial interest not named here.  I have heard folks at the gym and on the running circuit repeat this with a somewhat reverent tone too many times to count.

They have “drank the Kool-aid” about the idea of needing to experience pain to do something.

In my past life as a therapist, I know that this dictum holds true.  When we have emotional or psychological issues, but resist experiencing the associated pain, we cannot grow past those issues.   “Stuffing” our feelings usually only leads to continued pain, no resolution of issues or problems, and sometimes we are completely overwhelmed by what we are seeking to avoid.

At work, we are often subjected to situations where honest and sharp emotional responses are in order, but not allowed.

Change often involves pain, in the form of grieving the loss of what was known and the fear and excitement of embracing the new.   Relationships at work, especially those which involve a power differential, create a unique type of pain.  Shattered expectations for advancement, promotion, salary increases, and even just basic job security, generate multiple emotional responses.

I was told as a young manager to “Leave your feelings at home.”  I was expected to work and perform, without displaying any of the emotions which make me fully human.   I was also expected to instill this idea in those I managed.

After a little more experience, I have come to the point where I believe we do ourselves a great disservice by not adopting the “pain for gain” idea in the workplace.   No, I am not talking about the pain of the masses for the gain of the few.  I had something a little more egalitarian in mind.

1)  We want everyone to be engaged, but we do not want to “mess with” emotional responses.  

Then we wonder why the enthusiasm for a new initiative or change is less than ideal.    If we expect people to display the more positive emotions at work, we have to be prepared for them to have the less positive ones as well.

Emotions are windows through which we display our personalities.   Asking people to only show the positive parts does not support honest communication or conflict resolution.

How can we as leaders become more comfortable with a fuller display of emotions at work?

2)  We expect emotional responses to be proper to the occasion, as determined by us and our perceptions of the situation.

We may be excited by a pending change, because we already know or hope that it will benefit us personally.  We do not always consider how that same change appears to others.

Our perceptions do create our realities, but our realities are not other’s realities … and neither’s realities are the truth.

How can we recognize when we in our leadership role are placing our “realities” on others?

3)  We respond poorly to emotional displays and attempt to control or even “outlaw” them. 

People, as a general rule, are uncomfortable with painful emotions, in themselves and even more so in others.    When we uncomfortable, one immediate response is to stifle what makes us uncomfortable.   The reality that this does not address the underlying issues becomes secondary to not feeling pain or discomfort.

How do we as leaders become more comfortable with our own and other’s emotions?

As leaders, we may communicate the attitude that I was taught, that emotions have no place in the workplace.   Maybe we need to communicate a different message.

As managers, we need to use our communication and collaboration skills to make the workplace flow smoothly and effectively.    

 A dammed-up river does not flow, but sometimes the dam bursts.

 Let’s put more energy into helping the river flow than into plans for damage control.

Trying to get into the flow in the Heartland ….

Four Ways My Thinking Has “Evolved” …

DISCLAIMER:    NOT a political post.

Recently, President Obama has described his publicly stated views on a particular issue thusly:   the president described his thought process as an “evolution” that led him to this decision.

… and the resulting flap has included some criticism of him for having “evolving” views.  Something about that word, apparently.

Well, isn’t our thinking supposed to evolve?  

I used to think that …

… a lot of sizzling bacon, a small mountain of scrambled eggs, and half a loaf of toast dripping with home-churned butter and strawberry jam was a great way to start the day.  I still drool at the mere thought, but my thinking has changed.

… a great night out involved massive amounts of alcohol, music that  would literally vibrate my bones, and something involving petty crime, destruction of property, or at least invasion of someone’s privacy.  My thinking has evolved.

… women were targets, somewhat interchangeable, and obviously subservient and inferior to us guys in many ways, and much in need of protection.  Yeah, my thinking has definitely evolved on this score as well.

… anyone who did not look, think, and act like me was viewed as suspect, treated gingerly, if at all, and probably not as “real” as I was …

By now, I hope you get my point and can fill in the rest of that last example.  My thinking has evolved over the years and I’ll bet yours has as well.

The Point:

We can argue about our positions, our beliefs, and our values.

We can argue about directions, about decisions, and about trends.

We can even argue about whether the weather is good or bad each day.

… We should not be arguing about whether someone’s thinking has evolved.  

Evolved thinking is what sets us apart from other animals who keep doing the same things over and over … and I’m not talking about growing longer tails.

As leaders in our organizations and our social groups, we model behavior emulated by others and which sets the tone for what happens and what does not happen.

Perceptions matter and we should never forget that perceptions are not reality, but our current view of reality.  Things change, realities change, and our perceptions should change as well.

I would hope that everyone’s thinking evolves over time, by revisiting old beliefs, incorporating new knowledge, and always striving to engage in more critical thinking about the important issues of our days.

Hmmm … upon reflection, I guess this is a little political, but it is not meant as partisan.  I’m talking to and about everyone:)

Trying hard not to be a “caveman” in the Twenty-First century in the Heartland …


3 Thoughts about Why “Doing It” is Overrated …

No, not THAT “Doing It” … I mean the general notion of experiencing something and drawing lessons from it.

Yesterday, I posed the following question while blogging about bags:

In a world of constant and fast-paced change, how valuable is experience?

My personal response is that experience is incredibly valuable … as long as we consider our experience using the following filters:


Consider the environment and situation in which your experience occurred.   All other things being equal, old experience is less valuable than recent experience ~ things change and what was valid “then” may or may not still be useful.

Yes, ultimate truths do exist, but we tend to treat cultural and temporary knowledge as eternal, which they ain’t.


Are the experiences we have providing the same lessons?   If they are, why do we need to keep learning the same thing?

I am a big believer in making new mistakes on a regular basis.  When I make the same mistakes, I am either not paying attention or I am resisting learning the lesson.

What about you?  New mistakes or old?


We learn from both positive and negative experiences, so both have usefulness.  However, over a period of time, we should be getting better at critically and creatively evaluating our actions and making better decisions.

I take great satisfaction in applying “lessons learned” earlier in my life to the present.

I have no greater regrets than when I do not do this.

So, pay attention to the quality of your experiences, the transferability of your learning, and how things work out for you each time:)

Finally, a thought from someone who seems like an old friend …

“The difference between school and life?  In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test.  In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

Tom Bodett, who is keeping the light on for ya:)

Looking for that friendly and always-on light in the Heartland ….