• Taking Risks – Have You Screwed Up Lately?

    Date: 2010.08.26 | Category: Fastener Industry | Tags:

    [Another re-post (I’m on a roll) of something I wrote back in 2008.  I like to think I’ve taken some chances since then, but this is a good reminder for me to keep at it.]

    Have you screwed up lately?

    friend of mine is writing (right this minute I think) about the concept and strategy of “test often and fail”. This made me think of this little story.

    My 13-year-old daughter was very nervous before her first practice as a beginner on a water polo team. I wanted to help her calm down, especially since inside I was probably more worried about it than she was. All I could think was that at some point she would surely make a stupid mistake and feel (and maybe look) like an idiot. But then I realized that the first stupid mistake would feel the worst and, like getting a shot, would feel nowhere near as bad as either of us were anticipating. So I had what I think was a creative parenting brainstorm and told my her that being a beginner she would surely make a mistake that would make her feel really really stupid – for only a moment. I strongly urged her to make that first really stupid mistake as soon as she could and then get on with practice. This calmed her down for two reasons. First, being a teenager she is not allowed to believe that I know what I am talking about, so when I say that she will feel stupid, I am probably way off base. But I think it also sunk in for her that the first stupid mistake will come, feel bad, and go. She saw that first mistake for what it really was, a brief, uncomfortable and necessary interruption on her way to having a lot of fun and becoming a much better water polo player.

    After each of her first few practices I would get a report from her about what went on and then I would ask, “But have you made your first stupid mistake?” I jokingly acted disappointed at her reply because it actually took a few practices before she had a chance to make a really stupid mistake, and by the time it came she had long since stopped worrying about it. I think she was glad to finally make that first stupid mistake because it really wasn’t so bad, she survived it, and it was easily outweighed by plenty of good moves that she never knew she had in her.

    Besides being super proud of her, I realized that I need to practice what I was preaching. Even – or especially – in business, if you never make that first stupid mistake that means you are not taking enough chances and you will not gain. That glorious stupid mistake means that you are pushing hard enough to actually gain ground. It not only gives you an opportunity to learn from the mistake itself, but it is a clear sign that you are heading somewhere.

    We all have memories of stupid mistakes from early in our careers. We can laugh about (most of) them now, and they help us realize how far we have come. I clearly remember starting in the fastener business as a packager and making a stupid mistake because I could not tell the difference between a fine thread and a coarse thread nut. I remember it because now I know it was such a simple thing, but it was the starting point of learning more about fasteners than I ever thought I would know. I was willing to dive into that job, knowing almost nothing about the product. I took chances and made plenty of mistakes along the way as a necessary part of learning and progress.

    Now I am a big shot fastener specialist and very comfortable in my role. But that is the trouble. For the last few years I haven’t been looking for the next big mistake, instead I have been skillfully avoiding it. Twenty years from now I would love to look back on today with the same sense of accomplishment that I now have looking back to 1988. So as I ponder my to do list for the day or week or month, I look eagerly for the area where I am most likely to make a stupid mistake because I know that is where I am most likely to be making worthwhile progress. Even working on this blog is very new and very public, so I expect that I will make a stupid mistake and be embarrassed at some point (if I already have, don’t tell me, I’ll get there soon enough). But I am doing my best to transform that weird feeling in my gut from fear into excitement since I trust that it all leads to something good.

    (Oh did I mention that my daughter became a starting varsity player as a freshman and has a bunch of new friends on the team? All because of my brilliant advice, of course.)
    Photo by estherase

    [By quietly hoping that the changes in technology and economy won’t hurt fastener distribution too much, are we being safe or more risky?  Wouldn’t it be better to risk a few failures while trying some bold new things for the industry?]

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