Silver Lining Learnings

I didn’t exactly start the new year off on the right foot.

I had spent an entire day finetuning a webinar to make the complex topic of marketing and branding less daunting for those working in a community development capacity. Although I had delivered it a number of times previously, it was the one webinar I always felt could be better. This time I was sure I got it right.

The content painted the picture on the top of the puzzle box by providing a clear framework and step by step process, sorted out the complexity by providing clear questions that would need to be answered by organizations, and supported implementation by providing ideas and examples. I was confident and raring to go.

Unfortunately the webinar didn’t quite unfold as I had anticipated. While participants were kind, it clearly was not a home run.

Turns out there was simply too much information to deliver in one webinar. Additionally, I had sacrificed content for interaction so there wasn’t as much engagement as would have been typical. That, in combination with me losing my internet access toward the end and not being able to get it back for some time did not make for a stellar learning opportunity.

While we got through it as best we could, I was definitely stressed and somewhat embarrassed that I hadn’t delivered at a higher standard. When I finished beating myself up, I was reminded that failure always has silver lining learnings.

I didn’t want to admit it at first but I knew getting it wrong could be a good thing if I learned how to make the failure productive. That doesn’t mean I intend to celebrate failure, it means I don’t want to brush past it simply to keep my bruised ego intact. Instead, in order to maximize the learnings, I needed to dive into it, unpack what took place, and adapt.

Today, some experts are referring to this as practicing intelligent failure, a phrase coined by Duke University’s Sim Sitkin in 1992. Others have pointed out that most of us aren’t taught to fail productively. When it does happen we are more inclined to let our instincts take over and react defensively to get past our feelings of failure and shame.

While I suppose on some level it sounds easy to practice intelligent failure, it isn’t. It is especially difficult if one’s personal background molded one into believing they weren’t supposed to make mistakes. Or, if one’s work environment reflects a whack-a-mole culture when mistakes are made.

Regardless, while my new year didn’t have the beginning I had anticipated, perhaps it was simply a reminder that messing up can be good. Although I’m still not jumping up and down about the webinar I do know I’ll keep working to find those silver lining learnings. After all, how will I ever find a better way of doing things if I don’t make mistakes?

Posted on 01-07-15

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