Now, my daughter (she would definitely want me to make this clear to anyone reading) is indeed, a clever and supremely talented young woman, so, maybe I could have been a more sympathetic and understanding parent in my response. However, the thought of my confident teenager having reached the grand age of 17 and believing that she wasn’t the kind of person who failed made me snigger.
“May I remind you of when you learnt to walk? Not only did it take you months and months to learn, but even when you did find your balance and take a step or two, you fell onto your nappy clad bottom more times that I care to mention. Quite frankly, you were a complete failure. Oh, and by the way, you were useless at talking for years, at least four. Even now, you sometimes use the wrong word. One thing is certain, for someone who isn’t the kind of person who fails; you’ve had a lot of experience at failure.”
Perhaps the word my lovely, confident, daughter could remember is “yet”. It’s a small word that makes a big difference. Try it out with whatever you are learning or maybe struggling with.
“I don’t know how to motivate this member of my team…….yet”
“I just can’t seem to get my point of view across to my boss….yet”
“I feel stuck. I don’t know what I want from my career…….yet”
“This re-organisation is so frustrating. It just isn’t working for me……yet”
James Dyson said this about inventing his vacuum cleaner, “I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure.”
Imagine if we started off being happy with the idea that it might take 5,126 attempts before we got things the way we wanted them to be. OK, some people might decide the effort wasn’t worth it for the reward they were likely to get. However, some people might feel liberated by the idea that falling at the first hurdle didn’t mean that they are out of the race. Every mistake or behaviour that didn’t deliver results first time would become a “prototype”.
There’s a posh word for what James Dyson was doing. It is called “recalibrating”. It means that he tested out an idea, refined and then adjusted it little by little until he was satisfied with the result. It is a useful skill to have, whether we are influencing an outcome, building a relationship, managing our career or working towards a goal. We could do something, see what happens, make shifts in our behaviour, experiment again and check what worked without saying, “It doesn’t work, it will never work, I’ve failed.” We could even risk doing this 5,126 times.
So, now my teenage daughter is busy “recalibrating”. She’s taking note of the feedback, practicing, testing herself again and evaluating what needs to shift. She hasn’t passed her driving test…..yet. She will do.