How to learn from failure

So this post is all about lessons from last weekend’s FutureFit weekend. Well, I find it interesting. If you don’t, well, you know what do to.

If I had to tie all the thoughts I have into a coherent thread it is that firstly, I know I have a lot of issues (who doesn’t, right??). Although apparently knowing this, internalising it, and admitting it are further than a lot of people get, so apparently I’m past step zero. But I do keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Why? Because when I don’t fully commit to something or pay attention, I get sloppy. When I’m too busy I lose discipline (not unlike when I’m too tired in a workout my form deteriorates), and I don’t do things or I get sloppy, or, or, or. So essentially the breakdowns that I see between theory and practice are, mostly, a result of lack of discipline.

Secondly, it’s one thing to notice a pattern of behaviour. It’s another thing entirely to change that behaviour pattern. To change the behaviour pattern you must make a conscious decision to change your patterns or how you go about doing things. After all, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results … well, we’ve all heard THAT one before, no? So, LEARN from your failures or you’ll just keep beating yourself up.

Some time with my wonderful coach helped me actually figure out how to apply this lovely theory in my own case. Will try that out when I get back in late August.

I was thinking how this weekend was sort of like a distilled version of some of my MBA classes on leadership. I was also thinking how much more I would have gotten from my MBA if I were doing it now. Oh well, things are as they are.

One of the metaphors that we learned this weekend was that of the dance floor (where you are working or doing), and the balcony (where you go to observe and draw lessons, before re-engaging in the dance). Three things are challenging here:
1. Realising you need to go to the balcony and making the time to do it
2. Actually being able to draw conclusions, and the right ones, from what you see
3. Applying what you have learned when you get back, when everyone is busy trying to dance with you (and while your muscle memory has you doing the wrong things)

My other thoughts, in no particular order:
• People buy opportunity and hope. This is what Barack Obama was selling. The corollary, of course, is that it’s always best to under-promise and over-deliver. A mistake people like myself who tend to overcommit make often, to our detriment!
• I’m a sprinter (someone even said this in my written feedback). I need to slow down both for others’ sake, but ALSO for myself.
• A couple good Steve Jobs quotes: “Your time is limited to don’t waste it living someone else’s life” and “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards.” Stay hungry, stay foolish, indeed. Both those quotes really hit home for me, and the second one in relation to the first.
• You must have winter to appreciate summer properly. If it’s not for the bad times in our life we wouldn’t recognise the good times.
• The good is the enemy of the great the same way the great is the enemy of the good. In the first case, we settle (and sometimes don’t even notice because it’s like an insidious descent into a rut). In the second, we under-deliver because we are too focused on perfection, which probably doesn’t even exist or matter.
• Whenever there is a winner and a loser, and whenever for you to be right someone else must be wrong that is an example of the downward spiral, or, put another way, of dividing a fixed pie. One alternative at least is this abundance theory and in some cases at least it’s true. You’d be amazed what people will do if you ask, or, sometimes, even if you don’t. And hey, what’s the worst that can happen? Someone will say no?
• Related, I suppose: are you going to let the potential of a ‘no’ get between you and what you want?
• Don’t forget rule #6 (don’t take yourself so damn seriously).
• It is better to be liked than feared. You catch more flies with honey after all.
• I still haven’t figured out how to be that leader who people trust enough that you actually know what’s going on, when the org gets big enough and people get scared of your position. Funny, this, because people seem naturally to confide in me. I guess because you get the sense I can respect and keep a secret (and I can).
• There is maturity i being able to accept a good idea no matter where it comes from (no ad hominems welcome here, but this is such an easy trap)
• Acceptance is important. People must be comfortable to come out of their shell. On the other hand, there is a step too far (i.e. the American fad where there are no winners and losers and as a result children can’t cope with the realities of the real world)
• Teachers’ expectations inform performance. How we treat people informs how they respond. Another thing I knew but I forgot, but was talking with the beautiful Ingi about: it really is all about how you make people feel.
• Burnout and overtraining are kind of the same thing. Sadly, for me, they also manifest in the same way. I’m great, I’m great, I’m great, … then BAM I wake up one day, and I’m done and need to take a break.
• One of the things in the Touching the Void presentation that really spoke to me: accepting that there are situations where you must rely 100% on others. This is VERY hard for me. But I am actually starting to realize that I not only need that, but want that.
• Being comfortable with uncertainty is necessary in business (and most of all in an entrepreneurial environment!!). There is also a parallel here with CrossFit (haha isn’t there always for me??) where you must be comfortable being uncomfortable. Familiarity helps here; I remember a time when I used to … dread is the wrong word, but fear my workout because I knew it would be painful. Now that thought doesn’t even cross my mind … not that I don’t feel the pain but the prospect of it no longer fazes me. Unless it’s Fight Gone Bad. Or Sandy Helen. Or 100 burpees for time. Or, now, normal Helen! Oddly enough, some of my faves. Hmm… it’s not so much the pain that I like but that in those workouts you don’t hit technique problems or local muscle failure causing you to need to rest. It’s really just you vs the next rep (or you vs you). God I do love that moment where the rest of the world doesn’t exist, your vision narrows, and you know you really are going all out.

When I get bored I make big changes. This has manifested as moves and new jobs. You never know, of course, but I can’t actually imagine anything that would drag me away from Cape Town, and I am pretty sure I’ve never felt THAT before. But what did I say above? Never say never, right?

If I really like challenges I am probably going to wind up like Casper Oelofsen, and when I eventually get bored of my current work challenge (given how much I have to learn that should take many years!), if I had to predict right now I will wind up working something like 60% of my time developing people and 40% building things. People are more challenging but it’s tough to spend 100% of your time doing that, and I can operate in the domain where things are easier and I can see progress because sometimes it’s about also doing those box jumps and burpees (i.e. you need the motivation of doing stuff you’re good at every so often).

Finding our intrinsic motivations is important. Bringing them out in the team is really what leadership is all about. People are most definitely not one size fits all, which makes motivating difficult. The sort of management style, compensation, and reward system that works for me won’t work for the person next to me. That makes scaling difficult.

Sometimes being a good leader means knowing when NOT to lead. One good example of this for me now is how in CrossFit I am team captain, but on our team we have Coach Chris, who is designing team workouts for us and coaching on strategy, leading the critiques, etc, etc. Some people might be threatened by this but for me, he’s actually the expert and it would not only be counterproductive but stupid for me to try and step on his toes and make it look like I know more than he does. We need to function cohesively as a team, and that means aces in their places. You don’t actually have to be the one with the answer all the time.

• “But there’s a reason that’s attractive to you and not to other people.” – Pieter
• “Making things too difficult is what makes people better. “ – pulled from Facebook
• “It’s not like Martin Luther King said ‘I have a dream! But I’m not sure I’m up to it…’” – Pieter (you MUST believe you’re up to it, or you’re going to fail)
• “You’re addicted to water!” – Larissa
• “It’s imperfection that gives us opportunities.” – Roger
• ‎“Be patient. Your fitness level is something that is going to generally take a long time to get to where you think you want it. And when you are there, you will want it higher. Don’t define yourself by your numbers and your times. Define yourself by who you are and what you are about. CrossFit is something that you do, it is not who you are. That can help keep things in good perspective.” – Chris Spealler


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