Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lessons from the disastrous Dragon Systems acquisition

The NY Times Deal Professor column did a post-mortem on the disastrous 2000 sale of speech-recognition company Dragon Systems to the Belgian firm Lernout and Hauspie. Not least of the problems that resulted was Lernout's collapse as a result of accounting fraud. The long and the short of the story is that the founders of Dragon, James and Janet Baker, ended up losing their entire investment in Dragon and spending the last dozen years suing those they felt responsible.

Last on the list was their advisor, Goldman Sachs. The Bakers sued Goldman for negligence and providing misleading advice. In a verdict announced on January 23, Goldman prevailed in this case, with the jury agreeing that their liability was limited because they were merely presenting "advice and assistance," not guaranteeing Lernout's suitability as a buyer. And the firm was successful in painting the Bakers as eager to close the deal quickly, to reap a windfall and, perhaps, to rescue their company from its own financial problems. In the end, the jury decided that the Bakers were responsible for the transaction and its aftermath.

The biggest lesson I would draw from this fiasco is that you can't hire someone to act in your best interests. Anyone you hire will act in their own interests, and the best you can hope for is that your interests and your advisor's are somewhat aligned. The only one who can act in your best interests is you.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wind power CEO Paul Gaynor: "Failure has made me skeptical about outcomes"

Paul Gaynor, CEO of First Wind, outlined several of his failures and what he learned from them in a first-person article in the New York Times:

I failed my first computer science course. The phone call to my dad to tell him did not go well. I switched to mechanical engineering and found it more intuitive....

I next worked as senior vice president and chief financial officer for a start-up pipeline development company in London that G.E. owned with another company.

That start-up lit an entrepreneurial fire under me. It was highly risky and didn't succeed, but it was an unbelievable learning experience....

I joined a few colleagues from G.E. who had started an investment company in 2003 to take advantage of the disruption in the power market after the Enron bankruptcy and the California energy crisis. It was another high-risk proposition, and we stayed at it for a year but did not do well.

Failure has influenced my perspectives on business. I learned more from my couple of negative experiences than from the successes. Failure has made me skeptical about outcomes, which has influenced how I run First Wind. We take credit for something only when it actually happens and not a second before, because you can get burned in the final seconds of a deal.

Bravo to Gaynor for laying out his failures plainly and not sugar-coating them. He has clearly developed resilience and the ability to see the world as it is, instead of how he wishes it would be.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book project funded! Thanks to all.

We made our goal with 5 days to spare. What a ride it's been this month. Thanks to all who contributed to the project, "The Mistake Bank" will be printed in a trade paperback edition this spring. In addition to the funding aspects, the Kickstarter campaign has also generated discussion around the book, including several pieces of feedback to make it even better than it was. I will work on some final edits and on working with the illustrator to finish the layout, then to the printer. I will keep you posted!

best regards, John

Book project - fundraising nearly complete

Hi, all,

With 5+ days left in the Kickstarter campaign, we are nearly at the goal - $74 away, to be exact. If you'd like to be the one to put us over the top, click here and pre-order a copy of the book.

Kickstarter has been a great experience and there have been a lot of lessons learned in the last month. I'll be putting up a post soon on mistakes I made and things I learned from the whole process!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Geithner: "Decide which mistakes are easier to correct"

Outgoing US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, in an interview with the Economist. Geithner has been at the US Treasury through many crises, most recently the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

You are going to make mistakes, so you have to force yourself to decide which mistakes are easier to correct. In a crisis, you get to a point where you have to decide that you're going to risk doing too much, because it's easier to clean that up.

H/T Fradique Gonzalez

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Virgin's Richard Branson: Failing "turned us into an adventurous company" asked Richard Branson about some of the mistakes he's made in his new ventures, and what he's learned from them:

Entrepreneur: You're very open about having made mistakes -- and, at times, literally making things up as you went along.

Branson: My nickname is Dr. Yes. I can't resist a challenge. And I've certainly said yes to too many things in my life. Therefore, not everything has worked out. Fortunately, most of the things I've said yes to were small ideas, just starting from scratch. So if they didn't work out, it wouldn't damage us too much financially or rummage the brand too much.

Entrepreneur: How did those early stumbles shape Virgin as a company?

Branson: In Britain, people who try things and then fail are actually well-respected. People like the underdog. If you go back to my adventure times, generally speaking, we failed on most of my adventures the first time. In attempting to bring back the Blue Riband [an award given to a ship for crossing the Atlantic Ocean in record time] for Great Britain, we created the boat the Atlantic Challenger in 1985. All was going very well until we sank 300 miles from the U.K., and were rescued by a banana boat. And the next year, we picked ourselves up and tried again and succeeded. Interestingly, if we had succeeded the first time, I think it would've been a big story, but not the massive story it turned into. At the time, we had just launched Virgin Atlantic, we were trying to put it on the map, and we jokingly took a full-page advert with a picture of the hull sticking out of the water saying, "Next time, Richard, take the plane." But it was things like that, where we tried and failed, that put Virgin on the map, gave it a sexier image than our bigger rivals, and turned us into an adventurous company and brand.

Entrepreneur: You say Virgin Cola was one of your more notable stumbles in business. In hindsight, what would you have done differently?

Branson: With Virgin Cola, we would not have assumed big means sleepy -- we would have prepared for the largest global soft drink company to fight back. The experience certainly hasn't stopped us from taking on other Goliaths. At Virgin, we don't spend much time regretting the past, and we don't let mistakes or failures get to us, and we certainly don't fear failure. We picked ourselves up and tried again and searched for opportunities in other gaps in the market.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Peter Sims on Steve Jobs' biggest mistakes

On the Harvard Business Review blog network, author Peter Sims ("Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries," which I reference in the Mistake Bank book) enumerates some of Jobs' mistakes along the way to building Apple into the most valuable company in history. Writes Sims:

Like any creative process, any entrepreneur who wants to invent, innovate, or create must be willing to be imperfect and make mistakes in order to learn what works and what does not.

Well-known failures like NeXT and the Apple Lisa are listed, in addition to other smaller missteps. You might argue with the inclusion of one or more of these mistakes, but the larger point is that Steve Jobs didn't bat 1.000 at Apple. He took a lot of swings, and missed sometimes. In the long run, however, we remember the hits.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Balanced self-awareness is essential to success

Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield wrote in the New York Times about the importance of self-awareness in achieving success ("Secret Ingredient for Success"). Sweeney and Gosfield are the authors of "The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well." In the article, they tell the story of renowned chef David Chang, who struggled after starting Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City:

Mr. Chang could have blamed someone else for his troubles, or worked harder (though available evidence suggests that might not have been possible) or he could have made minor tweaks to the menu. Instead he looked inward and subjected himself to brutal self-assessment.

Was the humble noodle bar of his dreams economically viable? Sure, a traditional noodle dish had its charm but wouldn't work as the mainstay of a restaurant if he hoped to pay his bills.

Mr. Chang changed course. Rather than worry about what a noodle bar should serve, he and his cooks stalked the produce at the greenmarket for inspiration. Then they went back to the kitchen and cooked as if it was their last meal, crowding the menu with wild combinations of dishes they'd want to eat - tripe and sweetbreads, headcheese and flavor-packed culinary mashups like a Korean-style burrito. What happened next Mr. Chang still considers "kind of ridiculous" - the crowds came, rave reviews piled up, awards followed and unimaginable opportunities presented themselves.

During the 1970s, Chris Argyris, a business theorist at Harvard Business School (and now, at 89, a professor emeritus) began to research what happens to organizations and people, like Mr. Chang, when they find obstacles in their paths.

Professor Argyris called the most common response single loop learning - an insular mental process in which we consider possible external or technical reasons for obstacles.

Less common but vastly more effective is the cognitive approach that Professor Argyris called double-loop learning. In this mode we - like Mr. Chang - question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requ
ires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals.

We've written about this prescription over and over again on this site. Self-awareness is a key to success - and it involves scrutinizing our strengths, weaknesses, and deepest assumptions about the world. It requires viewing ourselves at a slight remove, so we can diagnose the things we must do to be successful.

It involves "facing actual circumstances," instead of what we wish would happen, as Justin Menkes described in "Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others."

It involves a balanced look at our successes and failures - unlike Lafley & Martin.

It may even benefit from Paul Schoemaker's "deliberate mistake" - an action taken counter to your own sense of what will work.

You cannot control external factors. As the Buddhists say, you can only control what you do and how you react to things that happen. By cultivating self-awareness (including by tracking and evaluating the things that don't go to plan)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The strategy book Lafley and Martin didn't write

The book could have benefited from more about Mr Lafley’s handful of strategies that did not deliver, for brands such as Folgers coffee, Pringles snacks, and pharmaceuticals. Rather than explore and learn from them, Mr Lafley prefers to bury these failures in an appendix. The Economist

I have been reading "Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works," by former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley and Rotman School of Management dean Roger Martin. It's a very good book on how to do big-company strategy. And I'm a fan of both authors - Martin once made my year-end "best of" book list.

But there was something missing, something that made the book less engaging and insightful than I wanted it to be. And I couldn't put my finger on that missing piece until I read the review in the Economist quoted above.

As stated by the Economist, Lafley and Martin spend 200 pages on P&G's right moves, and one page, in the appendix, on the failures. Moreover, the failures and their root causes are explained in the most generic ways. Pringles was divested because P&G "wasn't able to realize the full potential" of the business. The company was "unable to close a joint venture with Coca-Cola in the juice beverages and snacks business."

This raises the question of why the authors chose to take this approach. I'd venture that one factor is Lafley's and Martin's sheer politeness. Really scrutinizing the failures would mean opening up the strategies, and the people involved in their creation and execution, to critique. I'm sure it would have been mighty uncomfortable for Lafley, recently retired from P&G, to call out colleagues and to tempt the wrath of P&G's public relations department by criticizing the company that did so much for him (and vice versa).

As well, a deep investigation of the failures would dim some of the strategic brilliance ascribed to Lafley and Martin (who as the Economist points out was Lafley's principal external consultant on strategy). At any rate, they decided to write a sunnier, safer book, with the scary stuff limited to a page in the appendix.

This is a pity. If only Lafley and Martin had deployed their incisive minds on deconstructing and assessing P&G's failures as assiduously as they explain its successes, "Playing to Win" might have been a truly great book, instead of just a useful addition to the strategy bookshelf.

Friday, January 18, 2013

My 2013 resolutions - task prioritization and less smartphoning

In the Mistake Bank book, I discuss how to discern patterns of mistakes and how to take action to disrupt those patterns. A good time to reflect on mistake patterns and decide on changes is at year end. Given that it's still January, I thought I'd share my reflections and decisions for the upcoming year.

[Note: I do a daily online journal that captures accomplishments, mistakes, etc., and that is the tool I use for my year-end reflection. Alan Henry at Lifehacker has a nice overview of options in this area. If you'd like an invitation to use the beta version of my tool, email me at mistakebank (at) caddellinsightgroup (dot) com.]

The first pattern I noticed was that while I accomplished a lot, many of the accomplishments were not in my most important and strategic areas. So, a lot of things got done, but frequently they were not the most important things. While I was reflecting on this, I came across Elizabeth Grace Saunders' piece "How to Allocate Your Time and Effort" on the HBR Blog Network. Saunders' post outlines a simple way to rank to-do items by their importance, and then allocate time in priority order. Simply put, the most important tasks (the "I" or investment tasks) get worked early in the day, and early in the week. The medium tasks ("N" or neutral) are done next, and whatever time is left is for the "O" (optimize) tasks.

For me, "I" tasks include work on the book, strategic work for my main job, and things I need to do for the family. "N" tasks are to-dos for colleagues, tasks that support strategic work, etc. "O" tasks include making travel arrangements, expense reporting, and status reporting.

Saunders' method forces me to spend time on the most important tasks first, and to get less important tasks done in less time. I'm happy with the results so far.

The second pattern I saw was that my stress level was higher than I would like, despite eating healthy, exercising regularly, and taking family time. I soon zeroed in on a culprit: my smartphone.

As I reflected, I saw that the last thing I would do at night before sleep was check the smartphone. I would check it again immediately upon waking. This included emailing, reviewing the RSS reader, Facebook, etc. I would often page through Twitter while I was shaving. The end result of all this engagement was little downtime before sleep, and immediate stimulation on waking, rather than easing into the day. Instead of a calming, sensible routine, I was multitasking, raising my stress level first thing in the morning.

I set a rule. No smartphone after 9pm, and no smartphone in the morning until I went up to the office after breakfast and the kids were at school. I feel better already.

Two changes; those are my resolutions for 2013.

One thing I wanted to point out about these changes. They are both simple and concrete. The first requires adopting a simple method. The second is a straightforward rule. There are few decisions or options. As I state in the book, it's a lot easier to adopt concrete, specific, simple changes, than to try to change a general mindset. That is to say, it's easier to follow a rule like "no smartphone after 9pm," than to succeed with a resolution such as "use the smartphone less."

What are your resolutions this year? How is it going so far?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More reasons to forgive yourself when you make mistakes

Over on this week, Heidi Grant Halvorson writes about "Why You Should Give Yourself Permission to Screw Up." I discussed Halvorson's piece on self-compassion vs. self-esteem a few weeks ago, and this is another good one. Halvorson writes:

People approach any task with one of two mindsets: what I call the "Be-Good" mindset, where your focus is on proving that you have a lot of ability and already know what you're doing, and the "Get-Better" mindset, where your focus is on developing ability. You can think of it as the difference between wanting to prove that you are smart, and wanting to get smarter.

The problem with the Be-Good mindset is that it tends to cause problems when we are faced with something unfamiliar or difficult. We start worrying about making mistakes, because mistakes mean that we lack ability, and this creates a lot of anxiety and frustration.

Anxiety and frustration, in turn, undermine performance by compromising our working memory, disrupting the many cognitive processes we rely on for creative and analytical thinking.

Also, when we focus too much on doing things perfectly (i.e., being good), we don't engage in the kind of exploratory thinking and behavior that creates new knowledge and innovation.

The "Be-Good" and "Get-Better" mindsets are identical to Carol Dweck's Fixed and Growth mindsets. The "Get Better" mindset is much more useful when approaching new tasks. One thing I, as a recovering "Be-Gooder," have started to come to grips with is this: I notice my mistakes and feel them more acutely than anyone else.

So if you're trying new things, forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Colleagues will forget them, especially if you put the learnings to use immediately. Soon, they will only see your expertise. The missteps that built that expertise will fade away.

Disclosure: occasionally publishes things I write.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Creatives thrust into management must learn hard, valuable lessons

Fred Wilson's stories are frequent visitors to this site. Fred, a principal of Union Square Ventures, shares his experiences in tech investing on the very popular blog Today Fred took up the shock a creative "maker" encounters when she suddenly has to manage and lead. (The inspiration for Fred's post was a quote from Lena Dunham, the creative force behind the HBO series "Girls.) The following paragraph resonated big time with me:

When we had our USV CEO summit last fall, we kicked it off by asking each founder/CEO to open with the one thing they had learned the hard way during the year. The recurring theme was that they had to let the people they hired do the work even though they wanted to jump in and do it themselves. And as they are all going around the room telling this story over and over, I am thinking "and I want you to jump in and do the work too". Because these are the people who made the thing that got us to invest, the thing that we fell in love with, the thing we believe is big enough to build a business around.

In his book "Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others," Justin Menkes asserts that anyone who rises through an organization (or, to Fred's point, starts something that grows bigger than themselves), will encounter a time where their prior talents and experience are not at all useful in the new role. Then they will have to buckle down, and work their way through the hard lessons to learn this new competence. That, or fail.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Apology day continued: Gary Bettman of the NHL

This apology exceeded my expectations. Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League, in an announcement after the owners ratified a new collective bargaining agreement, apologized to all affected by the 113-day-long labor lockout. There was not a trace of defensiveness, and quite a bit of grace in Bettman's words. Of course, the NHL players and fans may not fully agree.

To the players, who were very clear they wanted to be on the ice, and not negotiating labor contracts, to our partners who support the league financially and personally, and most importantly to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I'm sorry.

I know that an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the past few months, but I owe you an apology nevertheless. As commissioner of the National Hockey League, it sometimes falls upon me to make tough decisions that disappoint and occasionally anger players and fans. This was a long and extremely difficult negotiation, one that took a lot longer than anybody wanted. I know it caused frustration, disappointment, and even suffering to a lot of people who have supported the National Hockey League in many different ways. In the end, neither side got everything it wanted, and everyone lost in the short-term....

As I said, we know that no words of apology or explanation will soften the disappointment. I read the letters, followed the tweets, read the blogs. We have a lot of work to do. The National Hockey League has a responsibility to earn back your trust and support....

A notable apology from the editor of The Sun magazine

What follows is an email from Sy Safransky, editor of The Sun, a US political magazine, to subscribers. There are some notable elements in this apology related to recovering from a mistake (Chapter 1 in the Mistake Bank book), which I will enumerate after the email. [The full interview referred to in the email is here.]

The Sun 


The Sun owes an apology to David Krieger, Leslee Goodman, and our readers.
In our January 2013 issue we published an interview by Goodman titled “Indefensible: David Krieger on the Continuing Threat of Nuclear Weapons.” In it, Krieger is quoted as saying that the path to global security “can only be through unilateral nuclear disarmament.” He never said that. One of our editors made the error of inserting the word unilateral into Krieger’s statement. In foreign-policy circles, suggesting that one country abolish its nuclear arsenal while others maintain theirs is widely considered unrealistic and counterproductive. We thus misrepresented a central aspect of Krieger’s views.
The mistake didn’t get past Krieger, however. When we sent him the interview for a final review, he asked that we replace the word unilateral, which he’d never used, with total. We assured Krieger we would make that change. Then, regrettably, we neglected to do so.
I couldn’t be more chagrined at the careless way this was handled. In an effort to make amends, we’ve posted the full text of the corrected interview on our website. We are sending a reprinted version of the interview to hundreds of nuclear-disarmament activists, national-security experts, and others with whom Krieger has worked over the years. We’ll also provide copies for Krieger to distribute at upcoming conferences and for any Sun reader who requests one. (Please write to Molly Herboth at The Sun, 107 North Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 or e-mail with your mailing address.)
Accuracy matters to us. This is why each issue of the magazine is copy-edited, proofread, and fact-checked by multiple editors and proofreaders, and then scrutinized a final time before it goes to print. In this instance, the error got past all of us. (For the record, our veteran proofreader wasn’t available to work on this issue.) As The Sun’s editor and publisher, I bear ultimate responsibility for every word that appears in the magazine. I know what “unilateral nuclear disarmament” means but read right past it. I deeply regret my mistake.
Krieger was gracious and forgiving with us. I invited him to clarify his position for our readers, and he sent us the statement that appears below.
Sy Safransky
Editor and publisher

Raising awareness of the continuing threat of nuclear weapons has been my primary focus for three decades as cofounder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Neither I nor the foundation has ever called for unilateral nuclear disarmament. Thus, I was shocked to see myself quoted in The Sun as saying just that. What I said was “The path to security can only be through totalnuclear disarmament.”
Why does it matter? Because to call for unilateral nuclear disarmament is to ask that one nation eliminate its arsenal, leaving itself vulnerable to other countries’ nuclear weapons. This is neither realistic nor politically feasible. It is also not sufficient. I do not ask any country to take such a risk. What I ask is for the countries of the world — particularly the nine that now have nuclear weapons — to engage in negotiations with the goal of total nuclear disarmament. I believe that the U.S. can lead the way, using its influence to bring other nations to the negotiating table, where together they might arrange for the phased, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of all nuclear weapons.
It is unlikely that the U.S. will initiate such negotiations, however, unless its citizenry demands it. We must awaken to the danger and organize to abolish nuclear weapons as though our very lives depend upon it — because they do. There are still some nineteen thousand nuclear weapons in the world, and the use of even a small number of them would have catastrophic consequences. Atmospheric scientists tell us that just one hundred Hiroshima-sized nuclear detonations in a war between India and Pakistan, for example, could lead to a global famine, causing hundreds of millions of deaths.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament is not what we seek at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. What we seek is a rational solution, and when it comes to nuclear weapons, the only rational number is zero. That means total nuclear disarmament. It is one of the overarching issues of our time, and your voice can make a difference. If you would like to play a role in securing a future free from the threat of nuclear annihilation, join us online at
David Krieger


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Here's what is really good about Safransky's apology:

  1. Timely. The January 2013 issue is still current. He didn't wait till time had passed, and  
  2. Public & accessible. It was sent to every subscriber, rather than being buried on a page deep in the print magazine or website.
  3. Shows a sense of agency. "I deeply regret my mistake." Not the editor's mistake (inserting a word into the quote), or the proofreader's mistake, or anyone else's. The buck stops with Safransky, and he takes responsibility.
  4. Authentic & personal. There are no weasel words or sliding around the truth. There's just a touch of the passive voice - "I couldn't be more chagrined at the careless way this was handled" - but, after all, apologies are hard.  [Here's a less successful one.]
  5. Fair & generous. Safransky includes Krieger's critical note right in the email, allowing him to correct the record and provide his own context.
I hope many leaders read this apology and absorb its lessons. They may be in a position to do this themselves one day.

[Thanks to Amy for sharing this.]

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In praise of "smart failures"

Doug Sundheim on the HBR Blog network posted "To Improve Innovation, Take the Sting Out of Failure." Sundheim rightly points out that goals to minimize and avoid failure have dangerous side effects in environments where innovation is important. Simply put, if failure is dangerous and risky, people won't try new things. Sundheim writes:

Start by defining a smart failure. Everyone in your organization knows what success is. It's the things you put on a resume: increased revenues, decreased costs, delivered a product etc. Far fewer know what a smart failure is — i.e. the type of failures that should be congratulated. These are the thoughtful and well planned projects that for some reason didn't work. Define them so people know the acceptable boundaries within which to fail. If you don't define them, all failure looks risky and it will kill creativity and innovation.

Questions to consider in defining smart failures: What makes a failure smart in our organization? What makes a failure dumb? Specifically, what guidelines, approaches, or processes characterize smart risk taking? What clear examples can we point to, to demonstrate smart failures? You want people to clearly understand the right and wrong way to fail.

Next, reward smart failures in addition to successes. Once you've defined smart failures, you want to reward them just as you do smart successes. It sends a powerful message about what sort of behavior is encouraged in your organization.

Chapter 4 in the Mistake Bank book is called "Smart Mistakes," and adds some perspective to this argument: on defining a smart failure, establishing "affordable losses" and ordering activities to fail more cheaply.

[There's a Kickstarter campaign underway to raise funds to get the book in print.]

Monday, January 7, 2013

Small business takes prior mistakes to heart

This is from the wonderful "She Owns It" blog in the New York Times, by Adriana Gardella. Ms. Gardella talked to her women's owner group at the end of 2012, gathering some of the lessons they had learned that year. One notable story came from Bari Jay fashion owner Susan Parker:

[Ms. Parker] said she was most pleased that her company had gone from being reactive to proactive. “Every year, we seem to learn from our mistakes and try to plan and do things better,” she said. For example, December is typically when Bari Jay starts shipping its dresses for the spring season (there are spring and fall seasons).

Normally, when Christmas rolls around, she said, she worries that shipping may spill over into January and that stores may no longer accept Bari Jay’s dresses. This year, however, Bari Jay shipped most of its dress samples in November. This meant that stores had more time to re-order dresses and also that stores that budget poorly were less likely to run out of money before ordering.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sense of humor is a potent weapon in dealing with setbacks

Psychology Today wrote about research into how people cope with stress and failure. One key asset (as people who read this blog regularly probably already know) is a sense of humor:

A sample of 149 students completed daily diary reports for 3 -- 14 days, reporting the most bothersome failure they experienced during the day, what strategies they used to cope with the failure, and how satisfied they felt at the end of the day. Their coping strategies included: using emotional or instrumental support; self-distraction; denial; religion; venting; substance use; self-blame; and behavioral disengagement.

Of these, using social support (both emotional and instrumental), denial, venting, behavioral disengagement, and self-blame coping had negative effects on satisfaction at the end of the day: the more students used these coping strategies in dealing with the day's most bothersome failure, the less satisfied they felt at the end of the day. What's interesting to note is that social support by others was not an effective strategy.

In contrast, positive reframing (i.e. trying to see things in a more positive light, looking for something good in what happened), acceptance and humor coping had positive effects on satisfaction: the more students used these coping strategies in dealing with failures, the more satisfied they felt at the end of the day.

The research (link - PDF) was originally published in the journal with the distinctly unhumorous name "Anxiety, Stress & Coping."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Mistake Bank Book - Kickstarter project is launched

The project to publish the Mistake Bank book has launched (you'll see it to the right of this post). Please consider being part of this project. If you're a fan of this blog, you'll love the book, and you also will realize how important it is to spread the message that mistakes are not shameful or blame-worthy, but that they are tools to learn and improve from.

I have two "asks" here. One, please check out the project and support it if you can. And, two, please help get the word out by sharing the project with your social networks. The URL for the project is

Thanks very much.

regards, John

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How to make use of a failure

There's a nice post on LinkedIn by Maria Gottschalk titled "Moving Through Failure." Gottschalk's advice is similar to that of Dean Shepherd in "Lemons to Lemonade" and seen in many other posts on this site. Gottschalk usefully urges us, when reflecting on failure, to ignore external factors and focus on the things we did that contributed to the failure, and how we can act differently in the future to prevent a similar failure. And she shares her own failure story:

At one time, I worked as an internal researcher for a large organization. I was responsible for a key customer research project. After reviewing the yearly numbers, I became extremely alarmed that if strategy wasn't altered, we were bound to lose customers. I reported this information to leadership - and they were visibly shaken - but they did not shift strategy. They felt confident that they had things under control. I suspected that they didn't fully realize the levity of the situation, and unfortunatley as the year progressed, sizable customer losses followed. Ultimately, I hadn't convinced them to take action. The onus was on me. A clear failure on my part - as it was my primary role to counsel them.

I do realize that I was not in control of their chosen course of action. However, moving forward, I always make one last effort to change opinions, by meeting separately with individual stakeholders. Only, at that point am I fully satisfied that I have done my part - my "homage" to the original failure.

Despite the fact that others were truly accountable for the decision, Gottschalk showed a sense of agency by scrutinizing her role and making a concrete decision to do more the next time she was faced with a similar situation.