Fail More to Succeed – Really?

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. — Michael Jordan

I am so tired of hearing this, seeing it and listening to people say this to me – the inevitable “you have to fail to succeed” quote. This is right up there with “practice makes perfect”. You’re wrong! Practice doesn’t make perfect if you have NO IDEA what you are doing or if you are reinforcing the same mistakes over and over and over again.

I always find it funny when I hear people use their fail to succeed mantra, as if failure is the key ingredient. It isn’t!

There are people who fail and continue to fail and there are people who fail and learn from their mistakes. Why isn’t that part ever included in the motivational quote? Is it too hard? Did you run out of room? Wasn’t it catchy enough? It’s like the “wisdom comes from judgment, and judgment comes from bad decisions, therefore wisdom comes from bad decisions” quote. No, it doesn’t. Wisdom comes from the insights derived from making bad decisions by being intelligent and applying analysis to it so you can identify an alternative path. You know what also comes form bad decisions? Teen pregnancy, getting hit by cars, bungee jumping without tightening your harness, cracking your skull when you roof dive into the pool deck. All of those come from bad decisions and bad judgment, oh yeah, along with wisdom.

Beyond the second step of recognizing you made a mistake and learned from it is doing a self analysis to determine if you have the capabilities to be able to do anything different the next time to achieve a different and hopefully better result. If you don’t have the capabilities, can you gain them? If not, move on. I guess you could say that success comes from failure if you move onto a different activity because you came to the conclusion that you sucked at that one, alternatively choosing one you were better aligned to. I could fail and fail and fail and fail all I want and I will never win an NBA MVP award, no matter how much I learn or how hard I try.  Can I go to the guy who sells the “Fail to Succeed” plaques and ask him for my money back?  Can I tell him that this causal relationship implied may not pass the sufficiency test?

This mantra has now been so embedded into business that we have people that use it as an excuse, especially those coming right out of school, as if failing is something to be proud of. It isn’t. Personally, I want my teams to try new things and they can make a new mistake every day, because it means that they are trying new things and innovating. But let’s be realistic here. I don’t hire idiots and I expect that coming in, they have a certain set of capabilities and the intelligence to know the difference between something that works and something that doesn’t. And let’s also reinforce that I’m talking about a new mistake each day, not saying it’s okay to make the same mistake over and over again. Applying this philosophy and using it as an excuse for someone to make the same mistake over and over and over again shouldn’t be applauded. That just means that they lack awareness of the objectives of the job or they lack self awareness of how their capabilities map to those requirements. Either way, I’m not going to recommend them for a bonus because they tried and failed numerous times, no matter how many times they tell me they are on the path to success nirvana through their actions.  These people  clearly missed the important second phase of this process – learn from that failure/mistake and don’t do it again.

Jordan may have lost more than 9,000 shots, and 300 games, but according to his Wikipedia page he also received acknowledgment for:

We don’t recognize how amazing Jordan is because of the 9,000 shots he missed or the 300 games he lost or the game winning shots he missed. We are in awe of him because he achieved all these awards and honors IN SPITE of this.



Is Lance Armstrong a hero? How do we know?

Lance Armstrong, Chelsey Sullenberger, Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Ethel Krajchir, Tim Tebow, John Elway, Evelyn Toboco – what do these people all have in common? Is there a hero among them? Are they all heroes? Are none?

Tonight a friend of mine posted the following comment on facebook in response to the report that the United States Attorney’s Office closed their investigation into Lance Armstrong’s team developing a doping program while partially receiving government funding as a member of US Postal:

“Its about time they realize…Lance Armstrong really is that good.”

My response was that we shouldn’t equate a dropped investigation with a finding of innocence. This then turned into a discussion about how Lance is a hero to which I took a pause.

The list of people above are all people that I believe have influenced people’s lives, aside from Lance, I’ve listed a few other athletes such as Tim Tebow who uses his celebrity to pursue his faith in his religion and for his missionary activities. Is Tebow a hero?  Another commenter on facebook posted that a hero is someone who walks the walk not someone who talks the talk. By that criteria Tebow would certainly measure up until you listen to those who believe he is anything but a hero. He is determined for sure, but do missionary activities help those for whom they are intended or are they similar to the crusades of old, imputing a belief system onto societies that have no wish or need to have this done to them?

Captain Sullenberger walked the talk by saving the lives of those on Flight 1549 when he safely landed the distressed plane in the Hudson River. Is he a hero or was he simply executing his duties as a pilot and doing everything he could to do that? What if he failed? What if a wave had caught an edge of the wing and the plane hadn’t landed safely, would that make the Captain any less of a hero? Does this mean that heroism must be decided by the outcome?

If outcome is now a criteria then what about Todd Beamer and Jeremy Glick? You remember these two men who lost their lives on Flight 93 presumably as they fought to take over the airplane from terrorists on 9/11. Their famous words of “Let’s Roll” became synonymous with heroism, but in the end, they died as did all of the other passengers on that flight. Does the fact that they weren’t successful make them any less heroic?

John Elway, another celebrity athlete who’s fourth quarter comebacks are legendary, is often described as being a hero and his efforts heroic. Like Captain Sullenberger, he was using his ability and executing his job to the best of his ability. He won football games. He did it in dramatic fashion. Does this make Elway a hero? What do we really means when we say, “He was the hero of the game?”

And then I throw out two other names who you may not be as familiar with: Ethel Krajchir was my mother, a woman who grew up on the South side of Chicago, and was a self made professional, working as a bookkeeper and accountant by day and raising my sister and me into what I hope are productive members of society. She did this all through a failed marriage and while fighting Leukemia and Lymphoma until the day she finally succumbed to this disease. Like many mothers, she sacrificed her life, her dreams and her passions so that me and my sister could grow up to have a chance at ours. Is she a hero or is she just a responsible and caring mother, doing what mothers do? Does the fact that she did this at a weight of less than 80 pounds while her body was ravaged from the inside out make her efforts any more heroic?

And then lastly there is Evelyn Toboco, who is the mother of one of my oldest friends, and who was one of our school principals while growing up. Mrs. Toboco, as we referred to her, for more than 37 years led a cadre of other fantastic teachers at The Buckley School who chose to go into a profession not to make money but to mold young minds and to give young people the tools and experiences to use their God-given talent to their best ability – again, so we could pursue our dreams and have a full and productive life. Was Mrs. Toboco a hero? Were the teachers that sacrificed their lives for ours heroes? And is sacrifice actually the common criteria? What about teachers that don’t feel that they sacrificed anything by choosing to be a teacher? Are they still heroes?

If sacrifice is the common criteria then we circle back around to Lance Armstrong. If he hasn’t sacrificed for the benefit of others, then is he a hero? Yes he sacrificed as a cancer survivor, but it’s hard to say that he is sacrificing his life in his efforts to eradicate the world of cancer. He has the means, he has the time and if you follow his tweets, you’ll see that he seems to have a fairly full and blessed life. I’m not pointing this out to take anything away from what he has given back to society – which is undeniable, but it’s hard for me to state that he is sacrificing anything by doing it. It only seems to enhance his celebrity and his own personal opportunities.

So there we have it, and personally I’m left with even more questions than answers. Is a hero someone who simply does something for someone else? Is a hero someone who does something for someone else so that they can accomplish a dream? Or is that just being a good and productive member of society? What’s the difference between a hero and a caring friend or responsible parent? What’s the difference between a hero and a role model, or a celebrity, or an athlete? Why is it that we so easily apply the term to celebrities and athletes who do things simply because they have the financial means to have their accomplishments publicized while simpler people who sacrifice their lives for the benefit of others seem to go unnoticed and unacknowledged? If you compared the teacher who had the greatest impact on your life or the life of your child against a Lance Armstrong who has indisputably used his celebrity and accomplishments to do so much in the fight against cancer, who would you say is the hero? Maybe they fall into a spectrum.

What I do know is that there are people who have touched my life positively in many different ways, be they heroes, friends, teachers, parents or even strangers. Whether it’s generosity, self sacrifice, a successful outcome or intent that determines a hero, I can’t say. I’m hoping you can.

I so do NOT want to workout today – Then make it even harder

Yesterday was a full day. I started off by hitting the gym at 5:45am for a 45-min Stairmaster workout at the hotel I was staying at and then headed to the office for a full day of meetings, analysis and other mentally challenging mind-bending and emotionally taxing decision making. At 7 PM, I told my team, I’m going to be offline for the next 90 minutes and will be available again at 8:30PM. My intent was to recharge myself with a workout but as soon as I got back to the hotel to change, my struggle with the inertia of just eating an unhealthy dinner was beginning to overwhelm my commitment to my 10 in 10 Challenge objective. As I passed the workout room off the lobby, I realized that the only way I would win this fight was to lean into it, as my friend Brett Blankner says. But I knew that leaning into it wouldn’t be enough so I figured I just knock the mutha down thereby getting in a quality workout and sending a strong message to the little devil on my left shoulder (insert Animal House reference here) letting him know that I control him, not the other way around.

So instead of skipping my workout, or barely go through the motions, I hit the treadmill for an interval workout that wound up frightening the people in the small room around me. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if I could have been cranking out some Drowning Pool, Disturbed or Steel Panther so that everyone else had to get on board with my schizoid speed party of hell and submission as well.

Now for those of you who could care less about my motivations and only read this because you think you might get a training tip you can try on your own, here’s the treadmill routine I followed, which is pretty darn simple and can be done by a person of any level, simply by adjusting the speeds to your particular capability.


  • Warm-up: 1 mile at 7 mph
  • Main set: 6×800 (.5 mile) at 8 mph with a .25-mile recovery at 6 mph after each interval
  • Cool down: .5 mile at 6.5 mph

So to be clear, the workout might be notated:

  • w/u 1 mile; 6×800 at 10K pace/400; c/d .5 mile

What this means in English is that I warm up for a mile on the treadmill and at the one mile mark I jump into the first of six separate speed intervals by raising the speed of the treadmill to 8 mph and then after half a mile I do the first of five recoveries for .25 miles. I keep alternating between speed intervals and recoveries and after the sixth speed interval I do my cool down half mile and then celebrate what I accomplished.

When selecting speeds, take the “normal” treadmill speed you might run to do your treadmill runs and use that for your warm-up. That will give you a sense as to how fast to do your intervals. Your intervals can be done between 5K and 10K pace, and your recoveries should be about a half to a full mile per hour slower than the warm-up pace. To close out the session in a solid manner, see if you can do your cool down where you started at your warm-up pace.

This workout gets you 5.75 miles of kick ass quality development of your turnover speed, stride length and lactate threshold. It took me just under 50 mins, which is a pretty darn good use of time.

The benefits:

Taking a feeling of malaise and kicking it in the teeth accomplishes a number of things.

  • Complete a quality workout
  • Gain confidence in your ability to control how you feel
  • Provides a great excuse to strengthen your mental fortitude
  • Creates an entertaining way get in a bunch of miles that may seem daunting but by breaking it up into intervals and recoveries the miles pas by a lot more quickly
  • Reset your day/evening from one of acceptance of giving in to one of unbridled success

Whatever your motivation, doing a workout like this is a positive experience and is just one more way to get you back on track. Love to know your favorite treadmill workouts that help you get past getting “lifed”.

Until next time.