As mentioned last month, I came across a new book—An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey—which builds a strong case for using “errors and vulnerabilities as prime opportunities for personal and company growth.” Amen.
This isn't revolutionary stuff for those of us in the "fail fast" school who believe that screwing up—quickly and even badly—is a necessary condition of successful innovation. But Kegan and Lahey take it a step further and build an organizational philosophy around celebrating flaws and weaknesses.
The authors give examples of successful businesses, fanatically committed to personal development, that encourage managers and employees to stop hiding their limitations and to use them as opportunities to develop both themselves and their companies. In these environments, “People’s limitations are seen as their growing edge,” the authors assert. But these limitations have to be mined. “Weaknesses are pure gold if we will only dig into them.”
It reminded me of some successful rock groups who were acutely aware of their constraints but overcame them early and used the lessons from those failures to become massively successful.
Some classic examples from classic rock:
The Beatles in their very early days in England were out-performed in a battle of the bands by an inferior skiffle group that put on a wildly entertaining show. (At the time the Beatles didn’t move much on stage when they played their instruments.) But after that humiliation, and after being subsequently warned by a Hamburg nightclub owner that to keep their gig they had to ratchet up their energy, The Beatles learned to flip the switch and play seven high octane sets a night. (See my earlier post on that.) Back in England they further developed their live show, eventually signed a record deal, and never looked back.
The Eagles were not taken seriously as rock & roll players in their early days (though Bernie Leadon was a great all-around musician) and despite some chart success they were continually put down as a "cowboy band" by critics and rock musicians I knew. Stung by the disparagement, the band decided to shift direction and beef up their personnel with the addition of Don Felder and later Joe Walsh, who became one of the hottest guitar tandems in rock history, boosting the Eagles' commercial and artistic stock. (See this video of Felder and Walsh—at the 4:10 mark—trading licks in "Hotel California.")
U2 had trouble singing and playing in tune for their first few years—and were even encouraged to dump their weakest musician at the time, bassist Adam Clayton. But as reported here, they just kept working and touring, becoming the most popular alt rock band of the last 30 years.
There are lots of interesting reasons why big-time success starts with failure, which we can knock around in the months ahead. But based on my experience in the music biz, one simple reason is that the early frustration (and disrespect) you experience gets you cranked up and motivated to succeed later. Maybe you can relate?