Plan For Failure?
Purpose, Vision, Mission
Passion, Success, Sustainability
Communication, Expectations, Guidelines
Core Values, Strengths, Unity
Ideas, Goals, Priorities
Reality, Strategy, Execution
These are important aspects of planning within a company, organization, and our personal lives. Whether we are intentional or not, we live from these beliefs, and we walk alongside them to success or failure. They help set foundations, sound thought and orderly actions to, hopefully, fulfill our desired outcome.
What happens when even the best of these beliefs are flipped around into chaos or uncertainty?
What happens when proactive planning is interrupted by unexpected events, and outcomes?
For seven years, I was part of the leadership team for a marketing company called Noodlehead Marketing. In the final year of our journey, we took a year of rest and release and the unexpected happened. We shut down the business forcing the remaining team members to move forward in our own respective paths. I embraced this interruption as a turning point in my story.
Usually, endings are met with heartache and uncertainty. When we entered our year of rest and release, the final year of the company, we knew there was a possibility we would shut down the business, but we hoped and envisioned the organization would continue into a new and better season. That didn’t happen and my real test began.
Was I personally standing on a firm foundation, or was I just fooling myself?
The Unexpected Uncertainty
Failure can be hard, especially in freelancing, while we usually consist of a team of one. Family, friends and local networks can only help so much with providing support and feedback. With so many different personality traits, characteristics, and emotions that apply to each one of us. We can easily revert to negative, harmful patterns of comfort when the unexpected happens. We do what we know.
There is great advice and inspiration from many great leaders on the subject of failure. This advice recognizes that failure is a part of life and even a step towards greatness.
When we hear stories from how Honda Motors and Mars Candies continually failed in the development of their products, we’re reassured. We consistently read and hear about unexpected events in the lives of Steve Jobs, Christopher Gardner, Rudy Ruettiger, Michael Jordan and many more. After all their time and tears they put into their passions, the unexpected stops them in their tracks. I’m inspired by their perseverance to continue forward towards success.
In our daily education striving to learn and grow into a better person, it is common practice to learn from our mistakes and better ourselves. Knowing our strengths helps us build upon and utilize others who can step in to help where we are weak. We can conquer anything if we set our minds to it. It's our catalyst to strive for a better tomorrow.
In the area of the heart and mind, we are told to think positive. Our directed goal is to keep all negativity out for the benefit of a healthier body, soul, and mind. It is to “let go” of negative thinking and shrug off the “haters”, so we can continue to move “forward”.
While there are fruitful aspects of this advice, it also risks dismissing the benefit of the negative all together. It’s a place of denial and avoidance as opposed to anchored growth.
While studies have found positive thinking to be fruitful, I’ve found in my own life these effects are short term and limited in their strength.
To oppress, ignore or even “let go” of negativity has slowly blinded ourselves, not allowing us to heal and appropriately deal with the reality we each face in our lives. This applies to fortune 500’s, mom-and-pop shops, organized cultural collectives, and individual people.
During the years at Noodlehead Marketing, I developed a jadedness towards clients, coworkers, and friends and was unaware of the contempt growing in my heart. When we failed or faced a challenging client and employee issues I found myself always going with the flow. I was easy going, smiling, laughing, and sarcastic. I was usually looking for the bright side or just “letting it go”. While it can be helpful to look for the silver lining, it ended up becoming an unhealthy practice for me.
Since my teenage years, I was the easy going and funny guy who never got mad. I didn’t challenge this conclusion. When we hear something about ourselves over and over again, we start living up to the imposed reputation. I easily let go of any stress or violation against me from others, making sure I didn't display any “negative” or “wrong” responses outwardly. What I thought was forgiving, staying happy and living positively was actually bottling the negativity.
When we take responsibility in a fault and apologize to the offended, or wronged. What do we usually hear in response?
“It's ok, it's all good, no big deal”.
These types of responses undermine accountability and justify the wrong actions. This leads to burying issues and not dealing with persistent problems. What looks to be helping, forgiving, and nice, actually leads to resentment and carelessness.
When we forgive one another using the words “I forgive you”, it does two powerful things that I feel we’ve lost culturally:
Forgiveness recognizes the offense for what it truly is.
It breathes significance into accountability.
These two points create opportunities between people for growth and unity.
In the final years of the marketing firm, my cracks began to show through my passive-aggressive behavior. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until my wife revealed it to me that I recognized this.
Recognizing these negative behaviors for what they are, allowed me to plan a way for proactively and directly addressing them. This plan could now help me appropriately deal with my issues with my wife or when a client who fails to communicate their displeasure with my work. Whatever the reason or excuse may be, I have a set and healthy plan on how to respond. Specific questions in my plan empower me to illuminate the real issue in a constructive way.
Creating A Fail Plan
Journaling is one of the most powerful tools for finding patterns in our work and personal lives. When working in a sales and services department of a company or store, it is common training and advice to not take rejection personally. It's just business. People are going to say no, repeatedly, loudly, right in your face. We are to smile, say thank you, and try to steer them with questions, in spite of their jadedness, to help them make their purchase. We benefit by persevering until we get the sale but that doesn't mean our emotions won't be affected. We are emotional beings. If we continue just smiling and waving we’ll bury everything until we go postal and explode.
So, take some paper and a pen or better yet, a note app on your smartphone and start recording the situations, feelings, emotions and actions. Here are several specific steps that help me.
Document the positive and negative events that occur during a project.
Record the failed or successful communications.
Document good and distracted workflow during projects.
Record your emotions towards other individuals and yourself.
What questions can you start to ask yourself from your experiences?
Don't be afraid to ask clients and yourself the question “why?”.
Once you've collected these events and emotions, explore ideas on how to handle them productively. Find similarities and connect patterns in your journaling.
If you need a structure, IDEMA, a framework for capturing and sustaining ideas, is a powerful tool to help you do this.
Documented experiences help anchor our perspectives in facts. We can see what’s real rather than being in a thick haze of emotions and assumptions. Writing out what we're going through helps calm and ground us. While, at times, feelings can be helpful, they are also deceptive in the heat of conflict. Take the time to look back and think about what really happened as part of the journaling process.
I recommend not using your personal journal entries to argue your case against another but rather to help you personally reflect and grow as you work to develop triggers for healthy proactive behaviors. Practice role-playing through situations you know trigger you, so you can stay at your best instead of reacting in an uncontrolled manner.
There are always surprises in life, no matter how extensively we plan. Are you prepared when your new big client says they can’t pay you? Are you ready for the slow and heavy seasons during the year? Are you ready for relationships that are overwhelming or end unexpectedly?
Knowing why I react the way I do, helps me know how to proactively steer myself towards my desired outcomes. It empowers me to assess the failures or negativity and addresses them appropriately. From there, lead them to communication, reconciliation, and work on forgiveness. Our final step is to let them go with closure.
Historically I jumped the gun on letting go and moving forward without taking these steps. By placing it in this order, I’m now able to do so in a healthy way.
Sometimes, I don't get that closure. Sometimes I address an issue or hurt that was done to me, only to find out it's too late. They may have moved away, closed off communication, or passed away.
Sometimes, the one I wronged says they can't, or won’t, forgive me. Many times, I feel I have failed at something for the thousandth time, just like research and development teams have done plenty of times creating products. Other times, I reach a goal or success I’ve defined and planned out, but it didn't lead to the outcome I expected.
With the unexpected out there, how can I at least minimize failures before they get too deep?
When To Stop?
Sometimes we need to plan for when to stop, and this is best done early in any discovery stage rather than after many unexpected failures. No matter how great or virtuous our vision may be, there is a line in the sand to be drawn. Clear expectations and metrics help guide us in future discussions and actions. Honest communication upfront will help with proactive decisions down the road and guard against jadedness.
There needs to be a plan in place to appropriately deal with issues out of our control. I think of it as, “proactive risk-taking”. Not just knowing that flipping a coin has a 50/50 chance to land on my winning side, but knowing when it lands on tails, I have set planned actions to take. When it lands on heads, I have specifically planned communication to make aware.
Back when the Open Source movement began, the price and convenience of a small business getting access to high tech online digital tools was a game changer and opportunities for companies to accelerate progress.
As time passed and the freedom of sharing design and code grew, new hacking dangers started to emerge. In addition to small business, largely financial, corporate and government websites became targets. So, at first, it was about making everything safer and secure, staying one step ahead of the hacks. The hacking didn't stop, though. So what do you do? You make a plan for what to do when the security fails, we have to efficiently and quickly restore the site. We plan for failure.
When Life Throws A Curveball…
Let me share a hypothetical situation to help bring the concept home (pun intended) for us.
I swing and miss the unexpected pitch, “Strike One”. The team cheers me on.
“It's ok, you'll get it next time.” A teammate tosses me the dusty ball off the ground.
Time for plan B. I place the ball on a batting stand, lining it up perfectly to the bat… and I miss again, “Strike Two”.
Embarrassed and not thinking clearly, I ignore the suggestions of my coach and just react by lightly bunting the ball off the stand. I start to run, but a young gun rockets a white streak past my head with the referee calling... “Out!”. The game is lost.
Now, I go up to the other team with a smile and confidence saying “good game, I can't wait to play you again next time.”
My team is positive and encouraging. Lifting me up, making me laugh while complaining of all the bad referee calls, and cheating by the other team.
The coach comes up to me yelling and pointing out my mess ups. He has a video of the game and all his notes in hand. He wants to go over everything wrong that I did in the game. Do I stay to confront the failures and negativity, or go to the pizza place with the guys to have fun?
I decide to stay. It was hard but I became aware of faults I had in the heat of the moment. With this new insight, I practiced and worked on adjusting my game. I plan and train for what I’ll do differently next time.
The fruit of this comes in the next game. I play hard, have fun and am ready for that curve ball. Unlike last time, I’m able to make it to first base.
Seeing an opportunity I attempt to steal second base, only to get tagged out. Walking into the pit I quickly pass the sarcasm of the others to sit with the coach. I plan out with him possible options to take when I make a poor choice. I've stopped ignoring reality and instead choose to improve my game.
When you’re faced with failure, will you choose to ignore it or will you face it head on and grow?
Will you grow into someone who plans for failure?
Know your purpose and vision and you’ll have the motivation and strength to lean in when you feel like running the other way.
Images courtesy of Pixabay.