When failure is a part of the business…

Let’s, for a moment, equate a new employee to a new television show.

Every Fall around this time, we’re introduced to a new lineup of sitcoms, dramas, and other assorted programming meant to inspire, entertain, educate, enlighten and solve a Network’s programming problem.

We, the audience, get invested in a new show, and excited about the characters. But many times the show is canceled before Fall turns to Winter. Its success hinges on a mix of quantitative data, and really… who knows what else. Shows get a quick hook, or a long life and syndication depending on a somewhat elusive and magical mix of elements: timing, support, great writing, execution, and advertising potential.

There is no magic formula that sets every show up for success. In fact, the TV business is one where most shows fail, instead of succeed. Failure is built into the business. You try something hoping you will succeed, but knowing the odds are actually against you.

This might be where the analogy ends. Or is it? True, we’re in the business of developing people instead of a television show, but how do we really know if an employee will succeed or gasp… fail?

Maybe the analogy continues. A few questions to consider for those who develop people, and ideas…

  1. What are the stakes? And how does that change our patience level?
  2. What does failure mean in these different industries? Does the definition change when the failure rate changes?
  3. What is the development plan for this character, this idea, and this person? To get them from Point A, to Point B, do we know what they need and can we support them through it even if it takes a full “season”?
  4. When it comes to development, are you in it for the long haul, or to fill a gap, to ignite real change, or for this persons “star power”? Depending on your choice, what does that say about pressure and expectations?

We hardly start a new job expecting to fail. And, we hardly throw our ideas and our work around hoping it will fail. But depending on our answers to each of these four questions, we may wish to give ourselves and our teams a gentle reminder that there is an audience of people (sometimes large, sometimes small) rooting for this person and this idea to succeed beyond its wildest dreams.

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