Time to Get Rid of the Bushel

I recently had the good fortune to achieve recognition in one of my hobbies, and I shared the news with a few friends and family, starting with the statement, “Sorry to brag…” My brother-in-law, Thomas, wrote back, “Never be afraid to state the truth!” Out loud I thanked him, but inside I was thinking, “Well, more proof he wasn’t brought up in New England!” I was taught that it is rude to talk about your accomplishments, because they are only evidence of the gifts and opportunities you have that others don’t, rather than of any work on your part.

I suspect that I’m not the only one who “hides their light under a bushel.” It seems that a lot of us don’t want folks to know that we’re doing well. We also don’t want folks to know when we’re not doing well, when we have failed.

I encountered this feeling recently helping a client with a strategic planning exercise. We were using Innovation EngineeringTM tools and techniques, including those often summarized as “Fail Fast, Fail Cheap.” The senior manager said, “I don’t want to fail at all.” I totally got it. He’s new in his position, and doesn’t want to stumble.

I explained what “Fail Fast, Fail Cheap” really means. It means working through issues and challenges one piece at a time, by trying one approach, measuring the results, and using that knowledge to try another approach. Each cycle is a learning cycle. Learning cycles are usually not in public, but done with your team. So, if you have an idea for a new product, the first learning cycle might be to find out if the technology you need is already available, and could be licensed. If the answer is yes, then the next cycle is to call the person who owns the technology and learn more. If the answer is no, that’s not a failure, it’s just new information.

On the other hand, a friend of mine is in the process of closing down a promising entrepreneurial enterprise that he’s been working on for several years. I know he thinks this is a failure, because he’s been blogging about it. But I’m also impressed by how he’s taking the experience as an opportunity for growth and learning…it’s not an indictment of his worth as a human being at all.

Long story short, both accomplishment and failure are part of an ongoing learning exercise called life. Time to get rid of the bushel.

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