Monday, May 23, 2016

Failure is the starting point for success

I grew up during Morning in America
I am a scrum master which always raises questions when I talk about it at family gatherings and dinner parties.  People ask me what I do for a living and when I tell them I am a scrum master they look perplexed.  “You mean like a project manager,” they ask.  I have to assure them that it is more than just being a project manager.  I am a servant trying to solve problems for the team members.  I lead and participate in countless meetings.  I know the current weather in Chennai and know some great people half a world away who happen to build web sites.  I also spend most of my time dealing with failure.  This week, I wanted to discuss with you failure and how it will make you a better scrum master.

Growing up in 1980’s America is a difficult time to describe to others.  Ronald Reagan was the president.  Instead of random acts of terrorism, young people like myself were worried about civilization being destroyed by nuclear weapons from Russia.  Gay people were dying of a disease known as AIDS and government didn’t care until the epidemic could no longer be ignored.  At the same time, music was alive with energy from punk and the New Romantic Movement became television friendly with the birth of MTV.  Deficit spending and a military build-up spawned an economic boom and as a teen-ager you were sold a bill of goods which said if you said no to drugs, worked hard in school, and pushed yourself you could be a successfully person.  As Dickens said, “It was the best of times and the worst of times.”

This cult of success infected everything in the 1980’s.  If someone wasn’t succeeding then it was because they were not working hard enough or smart enough to succeed.  If you failed you deserved to fail and you deserved the shame that accompanied it.  It is no surprise that when the economy fell apart in the early 1990’s that sales of anti-depressant drugs sky-rocketed.  It was a bitter pill to swallow because the bill of goods we were sold was phony and shallow.  Confronted with failure on such a huge scale an entire generation decided to go a different path.

Today, I look back on that period of time not with any nostalgia but rather as a profound learning lesson.  The economy failed on a scale unseen and countless driven and hard-working people were forced on the side lines.  Rather than giving up we made due the best they could carving out a cultural niche which will quickly get swamped by the millennial generation.  My generation taught to worship success learned to cope with failure and how to bounce back.  It has taken me twenty six years from when I marched out of college to the present day.  I have worked in radio, the casino business, and technology.  I have failed numerous times knowing that it will prepare me for future successes.

Failure is natural and instead of shunning it we should embrace it as the learning opportunity which it is.  Failure helps you avoid common mistakes.  Failure helps you weigh risk and know when to take a chance and when to let an opportunity pass you by.  Failure inspires success because it forces you to focus your energy and time on what you need to do to succeed.  Failure is just as important as success we just don’t recognize it as much as we should.   So if you are a scrum master, embrace failure because it is the ultimate learning tool for you and your team.

Until next time.