Showing the Mistakes

What barriers keep us from sharing our mistakes and helping others be better at their work? It is remarkable that a pilot posts multiple close calls to emphasize the benefits of learning from each other. Youtube has many how-to videos, and some of the most memorable are the failures and not just the perfect process.

What mistakes and failures would you be willing to share? What scenario has set the conditions for you to share your successes and failures?


The force of our work may not be easily evident. As a former urban-rural interface firefighter, we trained to stop, drop, and align ourselves in a specific orientation if caught in an aerial water or retardant drop. The simulated training is as close as we got to reality since the danger of impact is evident in the video.

It is challenging to describe the consequences of our work, and often, an image or a viewing in real-time leaves a far greater impression. What service do you perform that is hard to describe but can fundamentally shift your mindset when witnessed in-person?

Critical Moment

A 200-mile cycling competition might start as a large pack until the peloton encounters an obstacle. The selection might be forced by a significant climb, strong crosswind, change in riding surfaces, a team employing tactics, or a crash. The race splits into smaller groups, or even individuals riding solo. Ultimately, the race may finish in multiple groups, or it may come back together for a sprint. Competitors must assess if an event represents the critical momentDo they need to accelerate to remain at the front, or do they believe the group will come back together further down the road?

How we assemble ourselves and prepare for the competition will ultimately be impacted by our assessment of the critical moment. If we believe the race will end in a sprint, then it will change our preparation compared to a competition that will be decided by several long climbs.

The same approach holds for our organizations. Are we preparing ourselves for the critical moment? Even if we do not know what it might be, how it will unfold, and when it will happen? Are we building an organization that can adapt, pivot, or stays the course? Are we discussing other iterations and disruptions? Assuming that we will continue forward at the same pace, cadence, power, and tactics will leave us behind.

Connections and Combinations

But today, value isn’t created by filling a slot, it’s created by connection. By the combinations created by people. By the magic that comes from diversity of opinion, background and motivation. Connection leads to ideas, to solutions, to breakthroughs.

Seth Godin

It is the new points of view, the uncommon connections, the different perspective that make our collective service more remarkable. Be powered by uncertainty to ask questions. Be inspired by those generating movements in foreign lands. Be willing to share with those we have just met. Be willing willing to wayfind. Assume best intentions. Be connected by a shared vision.

Traveling Into Adversity

If we head out on a back-country adventure and expect some form of adversity, we can prepare ourselves. A day of high winds, extreme heat, extensive storm system, or some other challenge on the horizon allows us to find our pace and adjust when the events unfold. We seem to do better when we can establish a routine and then amend our course of action. It is more challenging when we cast off in a storm; it is harder to acclimate and find our bearings. Stepping out of a car into sideways rain, cold temperatures, and mud takes a different mindset.

If we can set our expectations in advance, we thrive. It is why we look at the weather report before packing for a trip. Or we search chat forums for insights and suggestions. If we have a reasonable sense of clarity, we can endure further than being hit by the unexpected.

Trail Report

Which trail encounters would be necessary to share with another trail user?

  1. Grizzly bear ahead
  2. Bridge is out
  3. Horses on trail
  4. Rattlesnake on the trail
  5. The route to obscure petroglyphs 
  6. Band of sheep with guard dogs

All of these might be essential news to share, and none of these could be newsworthy. The proximity or impact of any one of these items to the point at which we encounter the other trail user creates context. 

If the encounter is imminent, then the warning is highly valuable. However, the snake I encountered over an hour ago has likely departed. The Grizzly bear seen yesterday may be in a different drainage. The horses headed back to the barn are no longer relevant to the other trail user’s experience. If the obstacle will change the route for the other trail user, then proximity is less important. If the only bridge crossing a major river is impassable then a warning one hundred miles in advance is relevant.

There is the human dynamic, with so much stimulus in an outdoor experience it is easy to forget about warnings. The information shared at the trailhead might be overlooked by the time I reach the area of impact. The level of severity and impact intensifies the classification of the information. A band of sheep chased by a grizzly bear trying to outrun a wildfire may stay with me longer: the more disruptive the potential interaction, the more relevant the trail report.

Results Amplified by the Route

If the result had been two successful basketball shots, that is commonplace. When the result is two successful basketball shots spaced between numerous obstacles, ingenious design, mechanical systems, and a high probability of failure, we stay engaged and hope for a favorable outcome. The route we travel matters. The obstacles we overcome creates a more valuable result.

Pause and Purge

What features might we remove and still deliver the highest quality service? What was once essential that is no longer mandatory? What traditions are up for review during this dislocation? If the new way we assemble means place and time shifting, how do we prepare?

This is a powerful moment, do not miss the opportunity to seek new answers to the fundamental questions.

The Headline Number

The headline number is the attention grabber. The one that we will mention to a friend or colleague. Headline numbers are often shocking because they represent change our assumptions. They often create a new order of magnitude.

There is a story behind numbers. Scenarios to explore, more depth than the headline. How might you share the narrative that gives more meaning to the headline number? How does the most significant philanthropic gift in the organization’s lifetime become a catalyst for more engagement? How might a moment of unanticipated disruption to service delivery become the moment when your tribe gathers with unprecedented support? What if the headline number suggests it is time to shift your focus?

Headline numbers provide the moment between bounces on a diving board when your audience awaits the take-off and execution. How might you use headline numbers to amplify your work?