We can all be better teachers

Alright. Let’s do this thing.

We’ve all heard that 80 percent (or even 90 percent) of new businesses fail. — Mike Templeman

So I have been thinking a lot about failure. Not in a purely negative way. But realistically you can’t think about failure without some negative connotation.

That being said, it’s more a thought of, “why don’t we encourage failure more?”

Personally, I think the most informative times in my life have been post-failure. It’s a very eye opening and enlightening experience. But it’s really not something that’s “allowed” as a part of society, unless you are in the “elite”.

So, because I like examples here’s one…

One of the more informative moments of my professional career came as a result of what I would consider a failure. It wasn’t in the larger context of life. But for the immediate moment after, I felt like a big fat fucking failure. And it was great. It was empowering. It was eye opening.

I was working at Smith Barney as a technology trainer, and was tasked with giving a speech to a bunch of new financial advisors. I created a really informative presentation. I knew it inside and out. And I stood up in front of everyone and talked through it really clearly and concisely. And I was boring a hell.

During the presentation I wasn’t thinking about being entertaining. I was thinking about getting the information out there. Not an unreasonable approach. But still, a boring one.

And then, one of those moments of clarity happened. My boss Nina, an amazing and wonderful boss who didn’t pull punches, expected you to always do your personal best and didn’t put up with bullshit, pulled me aside after and asked me, “How did you think that went?” (I’m going to paraphrase a lot of how I remember this conversation… Nina, if you ever read this… I hope you think I represented your incredible way of cutting straight to the point and getting the best out of me appropriately)

I went off on a litany of how much detail I put into the presentation. How I gave great information that will be really helpful to this room of new financial advisors, allowing them to be better at their jobs when they get back to their offices.

“Right… you did give out a lot of good information… and because I know what you were doing, it was really informative that you know a lot about the technology… but… there was no personality in it. You have the potential to do this really well, but you have to give them something to keep them interested, because otherwise you’ll be skilled and knowledgable, but boring, like you just were.”

It was a “holy shit” moment. There’s a lot of stupid shit swirling around in my head. And it informs who I am and the way that I come at problems and provide solutions. So I got back to my hotel room, and immediately took my presentation and thought, “If I was just goofing around, how would this look?”

I wish it looked like this.

All of a sudden it was full of movie quotes. And it was weird. It was quirky. And… it was interesting. I would give presentations where I’d compare a technology principle to Jerry Maguire, and then have a ten minute conversation with people in the audience about the relative importance of the movie, and more importantly, examples that they thought of that better represented the point. It didn’t matter if I made the best, most apt reference, but it mattered that I got everyone else thinking about how that concept really worked, and then they made their own associations of what really made most sense to them.

But the point is really this: I failed in the initial presentation. Not in an epic and painful way. But it was still a failure. And as a result, I was given an opportunity. I took that failure, took the criticism that was well founded and valuable from my boss and had the opportunity to change. Now I’ll admit, a part of that is my hatred for failure and inability to let it go when I think I’ve let someone down (I’ll do that in a future post), but beside that… I was given an opportunity. Nina wasn’t MAD at me. She just wanted to help enable me to be my best. And she did, by pointing out my failure in a kind and productive (if very direct… which happens to be what I need) way.

I guess this goes back to another quote from an Aaron Sorkin show (again, likely stolen): “We can all be better teachers”.

I’m gonna give that a shot. Being a better teacher.

Also, thanks Nina!