Back But Tired

Apr 02 2011 Published by under [LifeTrajectories]

So I landed back in Omaha last night and plopped into my own bed, complete with husband, after midnight.

Today, I am awaiting a patient so I can then rush to catch the last part of my offspring's baseball game, and then celebrate my spouse's April Fools Day birth a day late.

From Harvard Business Review April 2011

Since I only have a few minutes, I will point you to another excellent piece in the current Harvard Business Review on failure. Really, this issue is important reading for any of us trying to accomplish anything. You should go buy it now (available through Zinio, so how hard could this task be for my wired and wiley readers?).

David Silverman wrote Constructive Confessions. I have shamelessly quoted the intro here:

History, it’s often said, is written by the victors. And so it is in business. Scan the shelves of Barnes & Noble’s business section, and you can find plenty of books about Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Larry Ellison, Warren Buffett, and their ilk.

However, while it’s perfectly fine to hear about the fabulously successful, it’s ultimately just an exercise in self flagellation for us, the hoi polloi. There’s very little to learn from comparing a successful person’s crêpe suzette with one’s own humble boiled egg.

No, the most important lesson for most of us is to learn from our failures and use the new knowledge to try again:

When you’ve been knocked down time and again, you learn how to deal with setbacks, which ultimately come to every one of us. You don’t figure out how to stop making mistakes; you figure out how to recover from them quickly.

Silverman's bio describes "ten careers so far" including one in typesetting that included spectacular failure, the basis for his book, Typo:

What any aspiring business leader really wants is first-person accounts from people who did it wrong—who ran the proverbial train into the abyss and, as a result, can explain how to bring it back. These, it turns out, are hard to come by. I myself am the author of one such story—Typo: The Last American Typesetter or How I Made and Lost 4 Million Dollars (Soft Skull Press, 2007). In that book I describe how I ruined a 50-year-old typesetting company in Iowa with 200 employees and $12 million in revenue. And in the efforts of trying to publish it, I learned why most people don’t write books like this: Industry buyers think nobody wants to read them. As my publisher, Richard Nash, explained, “All the evidence suggests that business books are not in fact about learning, but about escapism, just like a romance novel. The business book is about imagining yourself a success, not making yourself a success through learning from failure.”

He goes on to discuss other books of business failure (not a lot - see the last quote), including a blog post from Robert Strauss:

Or there’s the post in Robert Strauss’s blog, Ahead of My Time, which recounts the graphic moment when the would-be inventor realizes, several weeks and thousands of dollars too late, that condoms in air cargo holds depressurize and leak unwashable goo onto everything around them. That’s pretty much all you need to know about what can go wrong as a start-up.

Maybe times are shifting, though. In this era it seems anyone can "write" a book after any media event. Even if you lost the election or woke up drunk in a ditch, if you have name recognition, someone will publish "your" book.

The dead tree book shops better get a new shelf ready in the business section!

One response so far

  • Jeremy says:

    In this era it seems anyone can "write" a book after any media event. Even if you lost the election or woke up drunk in a ditch, if you have name recognition, someone will publish "your" book.

    Man, ain't that the truth. I love going to Goodwill or junky used book stores and perusing the irrelevant "current events" type books from 10+ years ago. Someone should find a way to compile all that crap and make it art.

    Welcome back.

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