My best mistake (!)

September 6, 2012

Does something sound wrong with this title? Most of us want to trumpet our successes, and hide our mistakes. And yet it’s through important mistakes that we can learn the most important lessons.

With this thought in mind, here’s my “best” mistake. Mark (no, not his real name) had hired me before, as a consultant with two of his companies. And now he was CEO of an interesting multi-division firm, with lots of appeal. He brought me in first to rework systems in a smaller division, and then to work on the major corporate systems. I was doing a great job (or so I thought), even though I was running into resistance. Projects that create change always incite some resistance, so this was not a concern. But then Mark left the firm.

All of the sudden, I was alone, really reporting to nobody. Nobody owned the project that Mark had created. And, not surprisingly, I was asked to leave as well. It wasn’t because of my work, or my results. I was just an orphan, and nobody was a stakeholder in my success there.

What did I learn from this? Well, no longer after he left, Mark referred me to another firm, whose CEO, Peter, was a friend of his. Again, it was the CEO who wanted to hire me, and I was instrumental in his plans to bring the organization to another level. But I didn’t want to repeat the same boom and bust scenario again. So, this is what I set in place:

I insisted that Peter form a management team, to take supervisory responsibility for my work.

Each month, before I arrived for a week of week, they would set the agenda, identify goals, and develop detailed plans to insure that I was given the needed resources.

Then, after I finished my week of work, they would meet and review the results.

My work was valued, and so there were often conflicts about which projects were given to me. I could deflect all of these, pointing to the management team that was setting the agenda.

In short, I created a place for Arthur Fink the consultant in their management chart — even though I was never a full time (or even part time) employee. And even when Peter became the target of criticism for some of his decisions (or lack of decisions), I was well insulated from this political stuff.

Business, and the work of non-profit organizations, is all about relationships. But when your position of tied to one possibly frail connection based on one relationshp, everything is at risk. By creating groups or communities, and establishing relationships with them, one can be better informed and much better protected.

Making big mistakes

October 13, 2011

I still remember that deadly class period in Junior High School — social dance class.  After reminding us to stand up tall, lead firmly, look your partner right in the eye, smile, start with the right foot, listen to the music, be aware of other couples on the dance floor, point your feet straight forward, hope that your teeth were brushed and that your breath is okay, and more pointers that I’ve surely forgotten, she gave us one last piece of deadly advice:

 “If you take little steps, you’ll make only little mistakes”.

That was horrible advice for the dance floor and for life, for me in Junior High, and for every later period of my life.  Even as I first heard those words, I knew they were a motto for the life I didn’t want to live. Read the rest of this entry »

I was in junior high school, and it was time for our first “dance”. I put dance in quotes, because it wasn’t about dancing at all, but about sitting on the far side of the room, not getting to courage to ask a girl (young woman) to dance. Any real dancing happened in the mandatory dance class that our gym teacher taught. And that’s where I heard it:

If you take little steps, you’ll make little mistakes.

Yes, it’s true, the tiny step might not take me too far in the wrong direction.  And small steps in dancing might be more graceful.

But as advice for life . . . totally wrong! Look around, think ahead, plot your course, and take a real step.  Don’t be afraid of mistakes.

Mistakes?  The original  core values and beliefs ftext from Earthlink.com (an Internet Service Provider) included the statement that they encourage employees to make mistakes.  They’ve left out that part, but still include the following helpful clarification:

We see a huge difference between “good mistakes” (best effort, bad result) and “bad mistakes” (sloppiness or lack of effort).

With this distinction, it should be clear that the best response to not knowing how to dance isn’t taking small steps — it’s learning more about dancing, making a real effort.  The steps taken should be deliberate — not tentative — steps.

A dose of realism: It may be fine to take measured steps.  Introduce a new product, a new dish on the menu, a new service — but don’t bet the company, the restaurant, the consulting firm on this innovation.  Measure the resources you’re spending, and be aware that it might not work as planned.  Be prepared to lose sometimes, win often.  But don’t hide from your mistakes — embrace them!

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