Fail Forward Like a Baby

I’ve taken a lesson in failure from my fourteen month old baby daughter. She does fail forward with the best of them. I know “fail forward” is a bit of a controversial maxim. With all that I’ve heard and read on both sides, I think it’s primarily a semantic argument. So, whatever your thoughts on the maxim, my daughter’s pretty smart.

THE BABY STORY

She’s walking now.  That’s new.  Just a few short weeks ago, she couldn’t really even stand on her own.  She needed something to pull herself up by, to hold on to. Once she’d gotten good at “cruising,” walking around while holding onto furniture, I could see she wanted to walk unsupported.  She wanted to try out what everyone else was doing.  She’d hold on to a chair or coffee table and step away, going as far as she could while still holding on.  She’d look at me across the room.  She’d stretch and strain to reach me.  Then she’d let go, sit down, and crawl the rest of the way.

There was something she wanted to do but couldn’t.  She didn’t get frustrated.  She just kept trying.  Every day, she stretched a bit further.  Her grip on the furniture got a little lighter.  She stretched far enough one day that only the tips of her fingers grazed the tabletop before she sat down to crawl.  She smiled.

Soon after that, she climbed onto her toy chest.  After sitting there for a few moments, she pushed herself up onto her hands and feet, her rump in the air, and then she straightened.  And there she stood, atop the box, grinning from ear to ear, triumphant.  She balanced there, on this small box, with nowhere she could go.  But she balanced there, for thirty seconds.  Then she looked around like she wanted to take a step.  All around her, though, there were edges.  She sat down, unfazed.

“Our failures can be inspiring. And if that’s true, then certainly our victories, no matter how small can be extra inspiring. But only if we notice them.”

Then, I came home one day and sat on the sofa.  She turned from the nearby chair she was holding onto and fell forward into the hands I held out to her. And she giggled like a fiend.  What was new here was that she’d mustered the guts to go for it.  She giggled with the thrill of it.  As she fell, headlong into my hands, she’d moved her feet – step, step, step – making this a kind of walk-fall.  Her body was almost horizontal by the third step.  It really was more fall than walk.  She said, “more.”  And so I picked her up, and she repeated her fall, stepping as she toppled like a felled tree.  “More.” Lift.  Step. Fall.  “More.”  Lift.  Step. Fall.  “More.” Again and again.  Giggle-fest.

After doing this for a couple of days, she stopped, and spent her time instead crawling. Then, one day, she stood and established her balance.  With spoon held aloft like a cheerleader’s baton and shouting something that sounded like “go,” she took six solid steps forward.

As she’s learned to walk a city block at a time without falling down, she’s been a dogged student of one step after another.  When she falls, she gets back up.  When she falls hard, she cries for a few seconds, then gets back up.  She smiles a lot.  Sometimes she laughs about it all.

A FAIL FORWARD PERSPECTIVE: Everything Is An Offer

There is a principal in improv – Everything is an offer. That means we can take inspiration from anything, because there’s information in every interaction, every event, every failure and every victory. Our failures can be inspiring. And if that’s true, then certainly our victories, no matter how small can be extra inspiring. But only if we notice them. Everything is an offer.

I’ve taken a lesson from my daughter about failure. That’s another example of taking everything as an offer. She’s offered me an approach to my own failures. Humor, celebration, shrug. On my best days, I accept that offer completely.

FAIL FORWARD with a “Yay for failing!”

Another principal we teach our clients in the training we offer is celebration of failure. It only takes a moment. “Yay.” Then, as my business partner says,” we’re moving on with our lives.” Instead of self-recrimination or frustration or shame, I can choose a chuckle in response to a fall. Heck, like my daughter does, I can choose a giggle. And, like my daughter does, I can immediately reboot and try again, enriched by the lessons from my failure.

The difference between my daughter and me – aside from the obvious – is that she’s really good at noticing tiny advances in her skill. She really celebrates her micro-victories.

We set goals for ourselves with the best of intensions, but that all too often don’t work out:

  • I’m going to lose weight.
  • I’m going to exercise more.
  • I’m going to double my numbers at work.
  • I’m going to increase my call rate.
  • I’m going to improve my close rate.
  • I’m going to expand my network of business contacts.
  • I’m going to finish what I start.
  • I’m going to curb my temper.
  • I’m going to read more.
  • I’m going to learn a new skill.
  • I’m going to spend more time with my family.

But these things are easier said than done.  And it’s not just that these are difficult things to accomplish.  They’re difficult things to muster our will to even attempt.

Force-of-will motivation doesn’t work.  Getting yourself pumped is short lived. Guilt-tripping yourself into action is painful and ineffective.

Why doesn’t my daughter give up after days of trying to walk? She doesn’t dwell on the falls. She focuses on the passionate desire to walk. And, she relishes the tiny victories. She celebrates each incremental improvement with gusto.

When I allow myself to do the same, my goals are more ambitious. I learn and improve quickly. My victories are many. And, I make things happen. I’m driven by passion that’s not dampened by fear of failure. I’m undaunted by shame and frustration at the hiccups along the way. And I’m encouraged by every incremental triumph as a promise of greater success to come.

TRY THIS ON

  • Celebrate failure.
  • Dust yourself off.
  • Yay for failing.
  • Notice tiny triumphs.
  • Enjoy the growth and relish the learning.
  • Everything is an offer.
  • Keep going.


Surpass Your Goals Without Breaking a Sweat

Great Goals Are Bigger Than You

I’ve been looking back at my 2015, and in a life I’m proud of, this may be my best year yet for setting and reaching goals. I’ve watched and nurtured my baby daughter grow into a gregarious, curious, and precocious toddler. I’ve watched and nurtured our baby company grow, get noticed, and deliver on promised results for 100% of our clients — those that hired us for a 1 hour improv “taste”, and those that hired us for in-depth, multi-day training. I’ve met awesome people and established meaningful connections around the world and in sectors ranging from community service to industrial manufacturing giants to elite military trainers and beyond. I met and exceeded most of my goals and accomplished things I hadn’t even thought to dream of yet — and it was easy (in a way).

And it’s not because I’m great.

It’s because I’m finally starting to realize two truths on a deeper level than I ever have before. My daughter taught me. She’s twenty months old.

  • I can’t do it on my own.  And…
  • Humans like to help.

All the greatest strides I’ve made this year for myself and my company have come through the help of others. People all around me are bending over backwards to help. They always have been, though I haven’t always noticed, and haven’t always believed them. But get this. It’s true. They mean it. Just like I mean it when I offer to help. I take great satisfaction in being of service to others.

For instance… This week, I’ll cook a meal — big enough to provide tons of left-overs — for a friend. He’s launching a business and could use a no-fuss home-cooked meal so he can concentrate on the sprint he’s running. This year, I connected four job seekers with their dream employers because I could, and I wanted to see them succeed. I introduced podcast hosts whose work I enjoy to guests I know they’d value having on their shows. I did it because I like to help. And I’m not at all unusual. You probably get off on helping others too, even with no promise or likelihood of payback. It just feels good.

So, because I can’t do it on my own, I started accepting the help others were offering me more than I ever have before. Some of that help I paid for, as it came in the form of professional services rendered. In exchange for some of the help, however, I simply said, “thank you.”

This second lesson about how profoundly true it is that humans like to help, I learned only by fully embracing the first lesson: I can’t do it on my own. Like so many of us do, I played my goals close to my vest. I didn’t share the small ones. And I didn’t share the big ones. I didn’t share with many people where I was, and where I was hoping to get. So how could people possibly help me achieve my goals? Few people knew, so few even offered.

In 2015, I made a change. I started telling everyone (everyone) about my goals: large and small, personal and professional. I didn’t tell every person every goal. I wasn’t dramatic about it. I told everyone about at least one goal. And I told them in a matter of fact manner without any expectation.

It goes like this, “I’m looking for some dinner.” And like this, “I want my company to bring the communication, collaboration, and decision-making awesome of improv to law enforcement.”

As soon as I started to share my goals with people that way, they started offering to help in ways large and small.  Not everyone, but lots of people.

I also became more generous with myself. I’m offering my help more, and I enjoy it. Helping nourishes me, teaches me, and leaves me fulfilled. Where I once feared that helping others would diminish the time I could devote to my own goals, I’m finding that what goes around comes around in the most unexpected of ways. And with that experience of fulfillment and value in my own heart and mind, when others say they want to help me, I believe them.

How can you surpass your goals without breaking a sweat?

Here’s my challenge to you, and my delivery of the no-sweat promise of this article’s title.

 

THE GOAL-SMASHING, HOPE-SURPASSING CHALLENGE

A. You can’t do it on your own:

  1. Start telling your goals — large and small, personal and professional — to everyone (everyone). This may feel strange and uncomfortable at first, but it’ll get easier. And you’ll find that people are truly grateful to you for opening a meaningful conversation. This has two incredibly powerful benefits. First, once you tell people, you are accountable to those goals. Second, people will offer to help.
  2. When people offer to help, take them up on it. Believe that they actually want to help. The great majority of them do. They are not just being polite. It’s easy enough to be polite without offering to help, so the offer is genuine. It is, in fact, not polite to disbelieve what people tell you about their own desires.
  3. Remind them of their offer to help. Do this politely, gently, infrequently… But do it. Remind them. I know this is challenging. It’s part of believing them when they told you they wanted to help. Offer to help them help you. For example, if someone says, “I should introduce you to Bob.” A week later, if you haven’t heard from them, drop them an email. “Thanks for your kind offer to introduce me to Bob. Here are some times I’m available for coffee with you both.”

 

B. Humans like to help:

  1. Ask other people what their goals are — large and small, personal and professional. Ask people you know. Ask people you don’t know. You don’t need to get a laundry list. One or two goals per person is plenty.
  2. Help in any way you can. If your profession lines up with their goals, offer to help in a professional capacity, and trade your help for their money. If not, find a way to help anyway. Keep an open mind about what would be helpful. (Introductions, referrals, book recommendations, a friendly ear, a quarter.) Your help might be very indirectly related to their goals. (My friend is working his tail off to launch a business. That launch is his goal. But, in passing, he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to eat this week.” I offered to cook.) Maybe your help will be minor, maybe major. Either way, it could tip the scale. You needn’t put yourself out a great deal to make a great difference.
  3. If you can’t see a way to help, ask. Heck, even if you can see a way to help, it could still pay to ask. The question is simple, “How can I help?”

 

C. Start helping the people you know by sharing this challenge today:

  1. Share this article. Use email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever social media you’ve got. If you see value here, so will others. Or, just share its ideas in conversation. Let’s shatter not just our own goals, but the goals of everyone we come in contact with.
  2. Share your goals (as described above).
  3. Ask about their goals.
  4. Help.

 

Priming the Pump

I’ll start the ball rolling.  Here are a few of my goals (some larger than others) going into the new year:

  • Inspire 100 people to tell me their goals in just the first week of 2016, and help each one of them in some way.
  • Double the number of clients in our subscription-model company-culture upkeep program.
  • Bring the communication, collaboration, and decision making awesome of improv to law enforcement agencies in at least three communities.
  • Create a world in which my daughter is destined to have a workplace she loves, a work product she’s proud of, and a vocation she can look at and say, “That’s worth the life I’ve given it.”

Tell me a few of your goals. Whether I know you or not, I truly will help if I can. This is your chance to start the New Year off powerfully. Don’t let this opportunity go by.

Help me reach my first goal: