Funny how we're told to show courage and innovation, but we're not rewarded for having the kinds of key failures it takes to succeed like mad? Ever notice how, starting in elementary school, the teacher asks who knows the answer rather than asking who doesn't? The kids who know the answer don't provide much, when you come to think about it, but asking a kid who doesn't know the answer to come up to the board for help with by the teaching in figuring things out can provide much to the others -- including those who knew the answer, but, perhaps, couldn't tell you how they came up with answer if you held a snake to their heads.
I've been pondering several kinds of courage, trying to understand why we (that includes me, here) tend to show such bravado but balk when it comes to turning talk into action. Here's what I've come up with so far. Adrian Furnham talks about the courage to fail. He hints at the courage to innovate. I don't see being "fearless" here, though some might see if differently. Fearlessness, like color blindness, is evidence of a disability in a key adaptive area. People who claim to be fearless scare me, frankly. They pretend not to see threats, but seem to let others take the hits when things go awry. Color blindness, well, isn't something you can have and get a job printing 4-color materials.
Innovation comes when people can fail. Now, by failing, I mean flat-out didn't work, screwed the pooch, f-ing it up. There's nothing like trying to dry your travel mug by holding it out the window at 55 miles/hour and dropping that rascal that will teach you something very valuable. I figured out some really important things about who the right clients are by having worked with the wrong ones (slow pay, slow thinking, low risk tolerance, high fear, lots of excuses -- get it?). Now, I can spot the wrong ones, Name That Tune style, after just a couple of notes. That also means that I can find the right ones almost as quickly.
Furnham talks about interpersonal courage -- the kind of of state where you can be with a customer or employee's strong emotions and not get upset just because they are. This is the skill of the manager who doesn't try to shut up a crying woman employee who's complaining of harassment -- just because he can't stand seeing someone cry -- and risk landing the company in court when it goes to the hounds.
The last kind of courage here is interpersonal courage. When Furnham talked about this as the courage it takes to resist temptation, I thought of President Bill Clinton. No wonder he's considered the First Black President: Like so many brothers I know, he can't seem to pass by a sweet, available young thing. As much as the Republicans challenged his policies, they despised him for his moral failings. African and Russian business dealings dealings are long-storied quagmires of bribes and payola, choking much-neede economic development.
Question: Where in your business dealings are you having trouble showing courage? (If you're feeling a little timid, you can answer anonymously). It might be in sales, telling the plain unvarnished truth to your partners about the financial State of your Union, dealing with an employee or resisting the temptation of a delicious-looking married staffer.
Read Adrian Furnham's article, "Managers as Change Agents" found in the Journal of Change Management, Vol. 3, 22-29.
Listen Now (20 minutes, 18 seconds):
Courage. What makes a King out of a slave? Courage.
What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage.
What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist or the dusky dusk?
What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage.
What makes the Sphinx the 7th Wonder? Courage.
What makes the dawn come up like THUNDER?! Courage.
What makes the Hottentot so hot?
What puts the "ape" in ape-ricot?
Whatta they got that I ain't got?