What’s Changed?

About 18 months ago, I noticed that my vertigo symptoms were changing. I brought a list of my symptoms and when things had started to change. I wrote about this and my choices in Making Difficult Choices.

If you are trying to solve a nasty problem in your code, tests or your projects, it’s the same idea. When was the last time something changed? You have an advantage over me. I bet you have version control over your sources, both code and tests. You even have a form of version control over your projects, and it’s not a Gantt chart. It’s your retrospectives, assuming you do them with regularity. If you perform retrospectives on a regular basis, you have an idea of what’s changed.

It’s a little more difficult to do version control or retrospectives on a human body. “You have the April 15 version of your gut, and the April 16 version of your eyes.” I don’t think so! If I ever manage to be the bionic woman, maybe.

If we train ourselves to observe, we can notice what has changed, and when. You might find this more difficult to do than it sounds.

In organizations, on projects, we can even purposefully try experiments, record the results, retrospect on them, and see if those experiments succeed. I like experiments. I experiment a lot in my work, for me. I suggest experiments to my clients. In my most recent book, Manage Your Job Search, I tried a different experiment with the way I brought it print. I’m very happy with my experiment.

When you try experiments and note what’s changed, you can start to solve problems in an adaptive and purposeful way. You can see what has succeeded, what you might need more data about, and what has failed.

Now the middle case, what you might need more data about, is the really interesting case. You probably need to break the problem into many smaller problems to solve. For my health, I track all kinds of data, when I work out, what I ate, my weight, when and how much I slept, and a lot more, because vertigo is such a strange condition. For debugging code, tests, your projects, who knows what you have to track? (I talk about this on Managing Product Development and in my books.)

Here’s a real example, a blast from my long-ago past. Many years ago, I tried to track down a problem in microcode. You might think this would be easy. It’s microcode, like assembly language. I had written it. I was intimately familiar with it. But no, I was stuck. In my defense, I was programming in parallel, multiple commands on one line in the microcode.

Did I ask for help? No, that would have made sense. (I was quite young, in my mid-20′s. Please excuse me for being foolish.)

Did I ask for code review? No, that would have made excellent sense. I knew everyone else was really busy. (I look back at those days and shake my head.)

Did I write more tests? Yes. I also made a chart in my engineering notebook about all the possible cases and what I tried. And, then, because this was before version control systems, I made a list of everything I tried, and everything I changed, as I changed it.

I only changed one thing at a time.

After several hours of debugging on my own, I managed to find the problem. I fixed it. Everything worked.

As I reflected on what caused the problem, I realized that I had made a small change before I left—late—the night before. Because I was still tired, I didn’t see the problem when I arrived at work that day.

It took me several more years to realize that overtime was bad for me. That mistake was not the only mistake I made due to overtime. I had a mental “ooooh” at the time. I think Jerry Weinberg calls this “ooooh” the “programmer’s theme song.” You don’t have to be a programmer to sing it. It’s also known now as a “face-palm.”

The first step is to notice that something has changed. If you then start to collect data, you can say, “What’s changed?” Now you have a place to start with your problem solving.

First, you have to notice.

So, what’s changed?


What Else Could You Do?

One of the problems in a job search is looking “everywhere” and not finding a job. Some people think they need to go to graduate school and get a master’s degree.

One of the problems if you want to be a writer is that it’s hard to make a living at it. Some people think they need to go to graduate school and get an MFA.

One of the problems if you want to be a coach is that you might think it’s difficult to do well. Some people think you need to be accredited, to go to a program and get a certificate, or go to graduate school and get a degree.

I could continue with project management, or anything else, but I bet you see the pattern…

Now, I do have a master’s degree (Systems Engineering, which is not about discovering requirements, but about putting systems together), so I am a fan of sometimes going to graduate school. I’m not opposed to graduate school. I am opposed to going to graduate school on your parents’ money or going into debt to go to graduate school. Especially if you can do something to prove to yourself that you can do the job and see if you like it before or instead of going to graduate school.

I supposed if you have more money than Croesus, it’s fine to go to graduate school. Maybe take a few other people with you, to spread the wealth! And, I am picking on graduate school as an example.

The idea for this week’s question of the week is this: we sometimes get stuck on one alternative. What else could you do? This question prompts you to remember the Rule of Three and use it.

How do you use the Rule of Three with What Else Could You Do? First, check that you have three worthy alternatives. Remember, when you problem-solve, one solution is a trap, two alternatives is a dilemma, and three alternatives break log-jam thinking and help you understand the problem. When you have three worthy alternatives, you understand the problem.

If you are looking for a job, maybe you are not networking in the right places. Are you meeting new people each week? Are you going to a networking support group? Are you increasing your number of loose connections each week? Do you have 25 companies on your target list? Are you doing at least one thing each week to reach a company on your target list? Are you reading Hiring Technical People to read my tips and traps? Did you buy Manage Your Job Search?

If you are a writer, are you writing something to completion each week? Are you sending it to an editor for publication? Are you writing a book a year (or close to it)? Are you spending time with other writers? Are you writing? Are you collecting publications or rejection letters and learning from them? Are you reading a lot? If you aren’t writing now, what makes you think that will change?

If you want to be a coach, have you practiced coaching? Do you have a coach? (I have a coach, because I coach other people. I ask for coaching. I practice what I preach.) How many coaching books have you read? What kinds of coaching do you know about? Under what circumstances do you and don’t you coach? Where are you most successful as a coach?

You see the pattern, right? You do the thing you want to do. You learn about it. You read about it. You discover how to do it by doing it. You find some free resources first. The internet is a wonderful thing. You read some books. You practice. Deliberate practice is a wonderful thing.

Now, you have done at least three things, and you can try the Rule of Three again. Maybe you have this list, maybe not:

  • Create a mindmap
  • Ask a coach for help
  • Ask a trusted colleague for advice
  • Consider a certificate program or yes, graduate school :-)

And of course, today’s question of the week, “What else could you do?”

Adaptable problem solvers have many more solutions than just one. What else could you do?


What Would That Do For You?

I often hear people asking for something, such as “How do I measure productivity?” In knowledge work, you can’t measure productivity. You can measure the throughput of a team, but you can’t measure the productivity of a person. But that doesn’t stop people from asking the question.

What you can ask is, “What would that do for you?”

That question, the “What would that do for you” question asks about the underlying problem that the questioner wants to solve. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Does the questioner want to know:

  • Do I have extra people available to work on another project?
  • Is everyone busy? (This is a crazy question, too. I have a management myth about the myth of 100% utilization.)
  • What are people working on?
  • How do I know what people are working on?

There might be more options. You can see there are many possibilities.

If you hear a question that doesn’t make too much sense to you, before you flip the Bozo Bit on the questioner, try this question: “What would that do for you?” You might be surprised by the answer.

(I was trying to think of a personal story for this. I couldn’t. I wondered why. I decided I didn’t have an interesting-enough life. I was fine with that. I hope you are too.)

If you are stuck, consider “What would that do for you?” and see what happens.


What If I Succeed?

Some people fear failure. Some people, like me, fear mediocrity. Other people, fear success. Don’t worry. You can be human and fear all of them in different circumstances!

But if you fear success, you are not alone.

Maybe you’ve been trying to accomplish something for a long time. You may have convinced yourself that what you want is just about impossible. How can you succeed? Some of my Manage Your Job Search readers are in this position.

Seth Godin calls this our lizard brain. We want to succeed. But, sometimes, we are almost paralyzed with fear, so that the thing we want the most is the thing we sabotage, so we don’t get it.

If you think of an acronym for FEAR as “Fear Experienced As Reality,” (yes, another acronym I got from Jerry Weinberg), being afraid to succeed makes a lot of sense. Tons of sense. It’s not far from fear of failure (it’s a mirror image).

gordian knotWhat can you do?

  1. Acknowledge that you are afraid. Maybe this idea is new to you. Maybe this is a new way of trying. I know when I first tried to low-carb to lose weight, I was afraid. What if this didn’t work (fear of failure)? I had tried to lose weight my entire life. I was in my 40′s. If this didn’t work, did I even have any options left? I was scared. And, if I succeeded, what would happen then (fear of success)? All of the problems I had blamed on my weight? What if they weren’t my weight problems, but “me” problems? Oh boy. I had tied myself up in knots.
  2. Take one small step and experiment. I tried the weight loss for one week, and lost one pound. Best of all, I wasn’t hungry and felt great. (Of course, your mileage will vary.) I had never had results like this before. I was willing to try another week. Since I succeeded, I could try again. I was still me.
  3. See the results of the experiment and bring the feedback to another experiment.

Using the growth mindset can help change our lizard brains. It can make the difference between “I can’t do this” because I’ll fail/I’ll succeed/I’ll be mediocre, or “I’ll try something.”

For me, it’s about managing that first step. About creating an experiment that will allow me to try something. Then, I can say:

  • If I fail, “So what? I tried something. It didn’t work. Oh well. I tried.” I can try another experiment.
  • If I succeed, “Good for me. Let’s build on it.”
  • If I’m mediocre, “What do I need to do to get better?”

Fear of success, just like fear of failure, can paralyze you. Can you find a way to create an experiment that will allow you to succeed, in one small way? Then, use the results to learn from that experiment?

If you have the growth mindset, it’s not about you as a boxed-in person. It’s about you as an experiment. You build your emotional resilience and your experiences to help you along the way.

Now, how do you feel about success?


Dancing With the Sidewalk

If you live in New England, you know how long and difficult our winter has been. It’s the end of March, and it’s still cold and windy.

Two days ago, we missed snow in Boston, but it was windy. 40-50 mph sustained winds. As I like to call them, “Small person warnings.”

I had taught the first day of a two-day workshop at a client, had driven to an evening talk. I have a new book out, Manage Your Job Search. This talk was part of the pre-launch promotion.

I parked in a handicapped space, and got out. I took out my briefcase and bag of goodies. I started to walk into the building.

This building is one of those buildings where the architects thought it would be a good idea if the parking was far away from the door. I estimate the closest parking space was at least 20 yards from the door, if not 30 yards. The temperature was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit, so it was really cold with the windchill, because the wind was whipping around at a minimum of 40 mph, with gusts of up to 50 mph. I was cold.

I had trouble walking. I had to bend into the wind. All of a sudden, the wind changed direction. I didn’t. Instead of my body facing the wind, I was now sideways to it. Uh oh. The wind pushed me over. I fell, hitting my head on the sidewalk. (Why is it always my head?) I also hit my shoulder and my wrist, but my head took the brunt of the fall.

Luckily, there are two people who exited the building who helped me stand up and walk into the building.

I gave a great talk. I looked like I hit my head.

At the end of the talk, one of the women there said, “You slurred your words.” I replied, “I have vertigo. I always slur my words.”

She said, “How do you know you don’t have a concussion?” I replied, “I didn’t lose consciousness, and I know what a concussion feels like. I don’t have a headache, and when I looked, my pupils were the same size.” I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to diagnose their own concussions. It’s also bad when you fall enough to know what the signs are.

She said, “I would go to a hospital.”

Here’s the problem. If I go to a hospital, it’s already 8:30pm. I’m tired. I have a workshop to give the next day. I know what they’re going to say. Take ibubrofen, put ice on it. Even if I had a concussion, Mark would have to wake me up every two hours. But I need sleep. I don’t need to be awakened. But that’s not the worst part.

The worst part is that they will ask me, “Where was your husband when you fell?” There is no way they will think I actually fell on a sidewalk. I already washed the dirt away. They will not believe I didn’t freak out. “Normal” people don’t fall like this and not go to the hospital. I don’t want the third degree about Mark. I don’t want Mark to take me and suffer the third degree. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Well, I am more capable than my docs think I am. I have to be. Otherwise, I would never leave the house.

On the other hand, I have to stay safe. I don’t want to fall down all the time. Now, two days later, I look horrible. Yesterday, I looked like I had put makeup on badly. Now I look like I have black eye, and the left side of my face is still swollen. Yech. I do need to do something. It’s time to ask for help.

I already have chosen to not speak in the winter when the possibility of snow is high. Maybe it’s time to ask for an escort from my car into the event when the weather is iffy.

Clearly, it’s time to discuss the previously undiscussable.

I don’t want to dance with any more sidewalks. They don’t dance back. If you, too, are dancing with sidewalks, is it time for you to discuss the undiscussable with someone?


Is Anyone Using This?

Mark and I have bought a house on the other side of town. It’s a one-story house. Here, it’s called a “ranch” style house. I think in the UK, it’s called a bungalow. In any case, all the rooms we will live in are on one floor.

You know what this means, though. We have to move. That means we have to clean out.

I alluded to this already in My Stuff, Your Junk. But now, we are serious. We are at the point of devoting time several nights per week of cleaning out drawers, closets, and bookcases. I swear that my books have had children when I was not looking. I do not remember buying some of those books!

One day last week, Mark opened a drawer in the kitchen and asked me, “Do you remember the last time you used something from this drawer?”

I burst out laughing. Why? Because the drawer was full of bibs, kid plates and kid bowls. No, I do not remember the last time I used anything from that drawer. It’s possible that Daughter #2 used something from that drawer as late as when she was 8 or 9, because she still liked her food separate back then. Those plates allowed her to separate her food. Since she is 21 now, that is many years ago. We had a “Where did that come from” moment.

We know where those plates, bowls, and bibs came from. I bought them. I put them in that drawer so the kids could make themselves breakfast and lunch with no parental effort. The girls could get up on a weekend and make themselves cereal. Even when we were up and around on the weekend, they could make themselves an easy lunch. Later, they could warm up mac and cheese in the microwave. The plates and bowls were indestructible. The bibs were there because we have good friends who had babies longer than we did. We wanted easy access to those useful kid-accessories. They stayed in the kitchen longer than we needed them.

I bet you have “accessories” like that in your life or on your project.

An adaptable problem solver or a leader will say, “Hmm, where did this come from? Is anyone using this? Can we toss it?”

Mark wants to keep these things for our grandchildren. Now, you have to understand that our daughters are not headed towards matrimony any time soon. I realize that matrimony is not a prerequisite for children for some people, but I think it is for our daughters. (I hope it is. It’s much more difficult to have a child without a partner. Sure, you can do it, but the aggravation level is much higher.) I suspect we will have a box labeled “For grandchildren.” I am sure we will find many more treasures to put into that box.

On projects, you can label this a “Parking Lot.” I talk about this in Manage It!, Manage Your Project Portfolio, and in Manage Your Job Search. If you can’t bear to part with something for a while, you put it on the parking lot for now. Later, you can make a decision when you’re not “having a moment.” Some people are keepers, as I suspect Mark is. Some people are tossers, as I am. It’s not good or bad to be a keeper or a tosser. It makes moving easier to be a tosser. But, people accuse you of being a cold fish. You have to have enough room to be a keeper, but no one ever accuses you of being a cold fish!

If you’re ever tempted to ask, “How did things get this way?” don’t bother. They got this way a little bit, one day at at time. Instead, you might ask, “Is anyone using this? Can I toss this?”

If the answer is no, ask, “Can I put this on the parking lot, instead of tossing it? We can see if anyone misses it.”

I hope that we never open the Grandchildren box. Not because we won’t have grandchildren. I do hope we them, eventually. My mother tells me they are the reward for having children! But I suspect there will be very cool stuff for grandchildren, and my wonderful husband will want to buy new things for our grandchildren. Why? Because he is not a cold fish. Because his daughters mean more to him than anyone else in the world, except perhaps, me.

After you put this “thing” on the parking lot for a while, check back and see if anyone is using it, say, in a month, or a quarter, or a year. I have a rule about clothing. If I haven’t worn it in a year, I give it away. The only exception to that rule is special occasion dresses, because I might not go to a fancy occasion every year. Otherwise, I give the clothes away.

Try “Is anyone using this?” or some variation in your house if you want to de-clutter. You can do it for reports for your work, too. You may be surprised by the work you no longer need to generate.  Let me know what happens, especially if you are surprised by the results. Okay, I’m back to going through books.


What Filters Do You Have?

I’m in London this week, teaching and speaking. I’m having a blast.

When I made reservations at this hotel, I asked many questions. I looked for a hotel where I could reserve a walk-in shower. I know that many hotels in London have no facilities for handicapped people, so I asked. Yes, this one did. I peppered the reservation agent with questions, and I finally made a reservation here.

I arrived on Sunday morning. My room wasn’t quite ready—not a surprise. Most of the US-to-Europe flights are red-eyes, which I think is nuts. The flights aren’t long enough—just six hours—so I don’t sleep enough, and these two weeks, the time zone change between Boston and London is is just four hours. I was happy to sit with my computer and write before I had lunch with my cousins. No problem.

When I saw my room, there was a problem. I did not have a walk-in shower. I had specifically requested a room with a walk-in shower. I’d asked for a double room, because I needed space for my “stuff.” I’m teaching experiential workshops, and I needed spaced for my equipment: cards, stickies, tape, but I was sure I could deal with that. I needed the walk-in shower.

All the double rooms with walk-in showers are upstairs on the first floor. There is no elevator in this hotel. My double room with a bath tub is on the ground floor. This is a problem. What am I going to do? I need a shower.

I tried to take a shower on Sunday. The tub is very high off the ground. It’s difficult for me to get in and out. I did that first day, but it’s not safe. What am I going to do?

My cousin asked, “Is there a chair in the room?”

“Yes. At the desk.”

“Can you pull it over to the tub and use it to get in?”

Aha! I can. I can cover the chair with a towel. I can use the chair to get in the tub and get out. It’s not easy, but it’s much better than trying to balance and get in and out without the chair.

My mental models—my filters—had left the chair at the desk. It was a desk chair. It wasn’t a tool for the bathtub.

Filters prevent us from seeing what is available to us, to solve our problems. It doesn’t make us bad people. Our filters prevent us from seeing a complete picture of the problem, or of the solution.

I have now used the chair all week, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It’s a good solution. Is it better than a walk-in shower? No. Is it better than moving to a hotel room where I would have steps? Yes. Is it better than moving to a less-convenient hotel? Yes.

Do I know what other questions to ask, when I look for a hotel in London again? Oh, yes.

It never occurred to me that a hotel would not have an elevator. My filters didn’t allow for that. I have expanded my filters now.

Filters are funny things. They form our mental models of how we solve problems. They prevent us from seeing possibilities.

What do your filters prevent you from seeing or hearing or experiencing? I may never look at a desk chair the same way again.


Are You In the “Here-and-Now” or in the “There-and-Then”?

I discussed perfection rules in my Do Your Rules Prevent You From Solving Problems? But, other rules can prevent you from living as full a life as you might want.

When I was in 10th grade, I took French (the language). I wasn’t so good at French. My teacher told me he would give me a C if I promised to never speak French to anyone as long as I lived. I took the deal.

I was 15 at the time.

I kept my promise. It wasn’t hard. I didn’t like French very much. I’d been struggling with learning French since the 3rd grade. I didn’t enjoy it. I found it boring. I hated what we had to read. I hated the practice in class. I knew that what I heard in my head was not how my mouth spoke the words. I found it very frustrating.

I still had to take a foreign language to graduate from high school. I took German for two years, and even received an award when I graduated from high school. Surprised me.

I kept my promise to that French teacher until a few years ago, when I met Yves Hanoulle. Yves is one the many multi-lingual Europeans, who is surprised by us Americans. He’s surprised we speak just one language. He speaks at least three, fluently.

I mentioned to him that I had tried speaking French. I told him the story of my French teacher, expecting him to laugh. He replied, “Are you allowing your old teacher to run your life?”

Huh.

I was not in the here-and-now. I was back in the there-and-then. Why was I allowing someone not in my life, a teacher from long ago to run my life? Why was I allowing a promise I had made when I was 15 to stick? That was not so smart of me.

I decided to work on my French. I am nothing if not an adaptable problem solver :-)

It is surprising to me how much French I remember. Bonjour, merci, adieux, s’il vous plait, I remember those. I practiced saying them until the accent I heard in my head was the same as what came out of my mouth. It didn’t take that long anymore. I have learned something since I was 15!

This past week, we had someone with a French name in PSL. I pronounced his name correctly. First name, middle name, and last name. “Perfectly,” is what he said. He was surprised. So was I.

I haven’t tried to read French. I have no idea what my vocabulary is. I haven’t worked on it. I’ve been focusing on my pronunciation first. Maybe it’s time to get past “L’Epee D’Roland” as I discussed in Learn Something New. Maybe this summer, when my schedule eases.

What’s important is that I am now in the here-and-now, not in the there-and-then.

We are human. We do these things to ourselves. We might not even realize it.

If you are doing something—or not doing something—out of habit, ask yourself: Am I in the here-and-now? Or, am I in the there-and-then? Am I allowing someone else, maybe my younger self to run my life now? Do I want that person to run my life now? If I want this, I can continue the way I am. But, if I don’t want this, I have more options. It may be time to explore those other options, and be in the here-and-now.


Do Your Rules Prevent You From Solving Problems?

We all have rules. Some of our rules arose from our childhoods. “Look both ways before crossing the street,” is an example of what might be a good rule. Of course, it depends which way you look first, depending on the country you’re in, right?

Our rules can help us live productive lives. They can help us solve problems. We use “rules of thumb” when we solve problems.

I often suggest project rules of thumb such as timeboxing to help people contain work. I often advocate rolling wave planning, depending on the kind of project. It makes sense to plan a little, do a little work, and then replan. Of course, if you only have a four-week project, I might not advocate that, at least not if the rolling wave is two weeks long.  I might suggest something else, depending on the risks or the unknowns in the project.

But your rules don’t always work for you. Sometimes your rules work against you. This is also known as “your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness.”

Have you ever seen a perfection rule? A perfection rule is when someone says, “I must be perfect for this thing. If I can’t be perfect, I won’t do it. I’ll postpone it until it’s perfect.”

We all have perfection rules. They become visible, sometimes in sort-of funny ways.

I tell this story in Manage Your Job Search: I knew someone looking for a job. She needed a photo on her LinkedIn profile. We discussed this in January. I saw her again in April. Did she have a photo? No. What prevented her from adding her picture? She’s a better photographer than her friends, but her hardware wasn’t not working. What did she need for hardware? A new disk drive. When will she get a new disk drive? In a few more weeks.

In the meantime, her lack of a photo and her perfection rule sabotaged her job search. People with photos are seven times more likely to be picked for interviews than those with no photos. My colleague spent four months being not picked because of her perfection rules. A good-enough picture would have been better than no picture. The thing she wanted (a job) was something she prevented herself from getting because of her perfection rule, at least some of the time.

Perfection rules and other rules trip us all the time. But we can make these rules work for us.

If you think you have a perfection rule, you can transform that rule into a guide this way:

1. State the rule precisely:

 I must always do a perfect job.

2. Change must to can. Is it true? Ask yourself. Verify.

I can always do a perfect job.

3. Change always to sometimes. Is it true? Ask yourself. Verify.

I can sometimes do a perfect job.

4. Select three or more circumstances when you can follow the guide.

I can do a perfect job when:

  • I feel the job is important.
  • I have sufficient time.
  • The nature of the work permits it.

Perfection rules, rules about problems prevent us from seeing problems.

It’s the same thing in code or tests. “I know the problem isn’t there.” You don’t look there. Of course, that’s where the problem is, right?

Our rules normally help us. The trick is to see when they don’t. Perfection rules are a double-edged sword. They help us perform great work. The prevent us see when good enough might get the job done, especially for now.

Recognize when you have a perfection rule and it prevents you from solving a problem. A good tip is if you are stuck and have been for a while. Your perfection rule might be kicking in.

Especially with problem solving, you have to know which problem you are solving. Do you need to solve this problem perfectly? Or, do you need to do something good enough now, and maybe iterate for later?


What if I Fail?

Some people are afraid of failure. I’ve already said that I’m afraid of mediocrity. But that’s me.

Sometimes that fear of failure is so fierce that it is paralyzing. Sometimes, even worse, the fear of failure produces the very thing we fear.

I see this a lot in my clients. They want assurances that their projects will end on time, in budget. So they estimate, estimate, estimate. They postpone making decisions on their project portfolio. What does this do? It pushes out the start date of the project. It guarantees that the project starts late. It guarantees the project will over-run the budget. Their fear causes precisely what they don’t want. And, their indecision costs them revenue, because they didn’t start the project at a reasonable time.

It’s not just managers inside of companies that afraid of failure. We do this in our personal lives, too. We fear failing at a diet, so we don’t start. We gain weight, the very thing we don’t want. Same thing with smoking. We fear being alone, but our behavior pushes away the people who might be our friends.

Instead of framing failure as a binary event, all or nothing, what if we framed failure as an experiment? Then we could consider:

  • This is feedback
  • What do I next? What action can I take next?
  • How do I measure or obtain feedback next?

When we think of failure as a personal failure, we don’t account for feedback. We don’t allow ourselves to grow.

Now, I am not perfect. I do not do this all the time. Ha, no sirree. But, when I do this, the results sometimes astonish me.

For those of you who are in the agile community, you know about the agile conference. It’s big. It’s The Conference for everyone to see and be seen at every year. If you are a consultant, as I am, it’s the place to shake your professional booty.

Back in 2011, I failed at the Agile 2011 conference. Bombed. Disaster. Wrote a blog post about it. Not one of the high points of my professional career. Boy, did I learn a lot.

That LinkedIn group I started as a result of that so-called failure? It’s over 1300 people now. I have learned from the people in that group. They have learned from me. I would never have started that group if I hadn’t failed at that session.

Failure absolutely was an option! I lived through it. It was not very comfortable at the time. I learned from it. That’s when I decided that I was much more afraid of being mediocre than I was afraid of failing.

You see, if I was wrong, at least I was having discussions. I was trying. I had the experimental, the growth mindset. If I was mediocre, I wasn’t trying.

Back in the 10th grade, my French teacher told me he would give me a B if I promised never to speak French to anyone as long I lived. I suspect my French accent is quite bad. Take South Coastal New England and add a little French Canadian (where my French teacher was from) and mix it together. I hear Parisian French in my head. I am sure that’s not what comes out. For years, I let that feedback prevent me from speaking French. No longer. I now say, “Bonjour” and “Adieux” with the best of them. If I could remember more French, I would practice it.

It’s not the failure that’s the problem. It’s your reaction that’s the problem. If you have sufficient emotional resilience, you’re okay. Do we all have that every day? Maybe not. Can we build it in ourselves? Yes.

Ask yourself, “What if I fail?” Can you treat it as an experiment, where you could use it as feedback? Then, take some next steps? Do you think you could fail then? That’s today’s question of the week.