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The Forefront of Incompetence

Contentment does not breed innovation

The Forefront of Incompetence

Contentment does not breed innovation


I’m better at starting failed business than successful ones. That’s something that has been hard for me to admit or even recognise until recently. It does help that I finally have a success under my belt.

I discovered that failure is not, as it is traditionally viewed, a bad thing. Failure is a place where you learn what not to do the next time round, a time where you can reflect on the things you wish you hadn’t have done and an experience that helps you grow as a leader, business person and an individual.

Failure is also a place that is hard to get to. More often than not you have to risk things to fail. You don’t fail if you are content and satisfied with mediocrity. You fail if you try new things, if you push yourself into a new area and if you are discovering something new and amazing that you’ve yet to truly understand.

When I was at school I was the head of school (class president) at a Catholic school and had an amazing headmaster. The tricky part for me is that I am an atheist and have been since those early days. I learned a lot that year but the thing that stands out is a phrase that I started to use back then that I learned through a story my headmaster told me; The Forefront of Incompetence.

My headmaster at the time could see that I was battling with my role as a leader in the school and my personal choices and he told me his story. He had started out his school career as a history teacher and quickly became a leader in his department. He was then promoted to head of the History department and excelled at that too. The school then promoted him to deputy head of academia and onto headmaster eventually. The key to this rapid ascension through the school ranks was that with every promotion my headmaster felt woefully incompetent at every new post.

I have taken this on as a personal goal: To feel woefully incompetent whenever I can. This means that I am never complacent and never feel satisfied. The great people that I have met in my life are constantly challenging themselves in their businesses, personal life or sporting endeavours, they are never content with mediocrity.

Sitting at the Forefront of Incompetence pushes me to learn faster, gather more information, adapt and iterate as best as I can until I have a great grasp on what is in front of me. Then I feel like I can move on to my next level of incompetence.