A Profound Place to Start

A Profound Place to Start

There are two things that this tweet reinforces for me:

  • Using the word ‘great’ 3 times in one tweet does not show off my vocabulary skills at their best.
  • That failure is not an end but a beginning, and a “profound” one at that.

Some background first: I tweeted the above during the 2018 Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) Annual Oration. Given on 20 November by Professor Lars Coenen the lecture, entitled ‘Resilience in the Face of Sustainability Crises: Is Innovation the Problem or the Solution’, was an enjoyably thought-provoking event.

During his oration, Professor Coenen touched on failure – and the things it can teach us – as part of innovation process.

Kate Auty, Chair of the MSSI Advisory Board and MC for the evening, picked up on this during the Q & A, and I especially liked the wording Kate used: “a profound place to start.”

There is a growing trend to encourage people to embrace their failures more, to not be embarrassed by them or in denial of them but to acknowledge and welcome them as a chance to grow. I heartily approve of this, BUT to truly learn from our failures – to find that profound starting place they can lead us to – we must go beyond merely acknowledging them or turning them into war stories. Shrugging stuff of with cries of “Oh shit! Oh well… tomorrow’s another day” and then hurrying off to get drunk won’t do. The growth comes from having the humility and developing the capacity to reflect deeply.

Interior of Denghoog
Taken from ‘Fians, Fairies and Picts’ by David MacRitchie

I have been meditating on some favourite lines of poetry recently:
“Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

These are from W.B. Yeats’ The Circus Animals’ Desertion, and speak to a need to find inspiration, especially at the moment when inspiration seems to have dried up.
“I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last being but a broken man
I must be satisfied with my heart…”

In our failures, with our egos bruised and our thinking in disarray, the experience of our failed projects can feel very raw. The potential for gains in status, finances, career advancement, or personal triumph are all stripped away – we are pared back to the bare essentials of our self, our hurt and failing self. The ladder we were climbing to better and brighter things has gone.

The foul rag and bone shop of the heart may not be a place filled with things that are shiny or lovely, but it is filled with stuff nevertheless – the rags and bones are remnants of life lived. In Yeats’ poem, he comments that the great and ‘pure’ images in his famous poems grew out of “A mound of refuse or the sweepings of the street” – beauty or meaning can grow out of compost.

If our failures lead us to the rag and bone shop of the heart, then this is a profound place indeed. For it is the place where all ladders start, and where our next attempt at ascendancy can begin.

 

I have collected a recording of the oration, a follow up extract, and some other information about the evening into a Wakelet collection. Just click here if you would like to look.

 

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Horrible Histories: When Projects Go Wrong

Horrible Histories: When Projects Go Wrong

Facilitated Conversations about

Risk Taking and Failure.

Exorcise your inner demons.

Offload, unburden, and get some perspective.

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Not all projects go the way we want them too, but we live in a society that tends to be risk averse and squeamish when it comes to talking about failure. Too many people carry untold history, denying themselves, and others, the chance to reflect, learn, and recover.

This is a chance for you to talk about risks you have taken, failures you have endured, and fools you have suffered.

Book now  to share your Horrible History:

  • Small, intimate groups of fellow risk takers (maximum of 4 plus facilitator);
  • Creative-based facilitation model to inspire insights.

What is it about work that has made you wake up at 3am with a pounding heart?

The world of work can be tough to navigate at times. I help people make sense of the emotional labour involved in navigating workplace culture. After a lifetime of working with teams in high pressure environments, I have developed a facilitation model that uses gothic themes and stories to provide both structure and inspiration.

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For this Halloween week, think about the things that have gone bump in your workplace: the Jekyll and Hyde colleagues, the vampires who suck the life out of your projects, the monsters you have created.

This is an opportunity to bring them into the light of day.

Cost: $25 / person
Dates: 29 Oct. – 2 Nov. 2018
Time: 5.30 for 6-7.30 pm
Place: Pop-Up venue in Melbourne CBD (directions supplied after booking)
I am keeping numbers small to keep the conversation intimate, so book soon. 

Book here.

Another Recommended Read: One entrepreneur on multiple failures and learning to learn: Start-ups are Scary series

Another Recommended Read: One entrepreneur on multiple failures and learning to learn: Start-ups are Scary series

I have been flat out this week and therefore hard pressed to tease out any of my own ideas to put in a blog. Instead I am posting a couple of ‘Recommended Reads’ – blogs that contains links to great articles other people have written.  Enjoy!

This very candid interview of entrepreneur Jono Birkett of Memtell by Rose Powell on the StartUpSmart website caught my eye. As the title suggests, Birkett reveals how he had a few tries to get a venture up and running and reflects on lessons learnt along the way.

Do we talk enough about failure? Do we inhabit a culture that can view failure as a chance for learning and / or a stage our projects might have to work through on their way to realisation? Or do we view failure as something that damns us, that is an indicator of weakness or something shameful.

The spectre of failure surely hovers in the background of any kind of project, especially in its start-up phase. I have been involved in my fair share of failures (and successes!) across creative, community and business orientated projects. It’s certainly no fun to be haunted by the idea of what could have been. And the shame and mortification of being associated with a failure can be toxic in a situation where the difficulties encountered by a project’s team have been handled or communicated badly or accompanied by painful breakdowns in working relationships.

At times I have been involved in what I privately call ‘rescue’ work. This is where I have been employed to fix up a project or program that has gone off the rails. Sometimes I have been able to make a difference, and sometimes, sadly, not. This is difficult work, sometimes draining and disappointing and sometimes extremely rewarding. But it is a wonderful learning experience and, I must admit, quite fascinating. I actually enjoy trying to track the underlying causes of problems and love it when I can help a project team come up with some great strategies to help the project get back on track.

So I am impressed by Birkett’s willingness to reflect on and share what he has learnt. A willingness to talk about failures and problems, a willingness to step away from the need to always look like a winner or an expert, could be an adjunct to our business culture. Reflecting on our failures can teach us so much, and sharing our insights puts us in the position of supporting and empowering others.