Tom Barnett is an author of three books (his doctoral dissertation, The Pentagon’s New Map, and Blueprint for Action), an important grand strategist, and a Harvard PhD. Recently I asked him to answer some questions for a class I am taking on creativity, talent, and expertise. I only expected short answers, and I promised him that what I was asking him was for class-use only.
I was blown away by his public answers to the questionnaire, and delighted that he used the chance to mention tdaxp. Here’s a sample:
18. How often do you “fail”? What do you do when you fail?
To me, failure is just realizing the distance from where I am currently on some issue to where I ultimately want to go. Those realizations are often driven by critical feedback on the brief, when then are turned into better or newer or more expanded slides. When I’ve explained that new thing many times, it usually finds its way into the blog/column/article/book in a progressive fashion.
That’s the idea version of failure for me.
The career version of failure is me simply recognizing I’ve grown beyond whatever bounds I currently face and need to recast myself in another venue. The trigger is typically financial: I feel scared about my ability to earn money in the current configuration of jobs/relationships/alliances and so I reinvent myself to recast those as effectively as possible. Those moments are typically scary, but invigorating in a good way. Having gone through them now a number of times, I’m fairly open to welcoming them (the instinct is to avoid at all costs), so I’m learning to enjoy them.
Performance failure happens here and there (the bad TV remote appearance, the stupid blog post, and the perceived bad briefing), but outright failure is rare (I recently had a very bad brief which stunned me, but it was mostly the result of how the event was set up rather than my performance, but it re-taught me the importance of managing the venue as much as possible—i.e., being demanding with my hosts to ensure the best performance). The bad interview is frustrating, but I’ve learned that’s overwhelmingly the function of the interviewer, something that’s almost impossible to surmount. So I guess a lot of dealing with failure is understanding what you can’t control and accepting that (you know, that old chestnut).
Dealing with failure effectively is mostly about diagnosing it quickly, accepting your portion of the blame, and then chilling on it and putting it behind you quickly. So you seek “getting back up on the horse” moments ASAP.
Update: Tom answers another question: how do you know you are right?