Days feel cooler and I notice that the sun rises a bit later every morning. I face this time of year with mixed emotions. Part of me longs to extend the easy days of summer with its light traffic and slow pace. Yet part of me longs for the return of structure the fall brings.
Fall sees vacation travelers back at their desks and offices. No more “Out of Office” auto responses to my emails. The pace quickens as leaders begin to fret about year-end approaching. Non work hours fill with school, sports and the impending loom of the holidays.
Before we close the door on the Summer of 2014, I want to share some learning I experienced at my annual sojourn to art camp. I’ve written about my summer art experiences before in my newsletters. This year I learned how to convert mistakes into success by reframing my expectations.
Now, go get a glass of wine or your other favorite beverage, a good book and a lounge chair. Kick back and sink in to the last breath of summer. Relax and enjoy!
— AliceAlice Waagen, PhD Founder, www.workforcelearning.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
CONVERTING MISTAKES INTO SUCCESS
By Dr. Alice Waagen
This summer I returned once again to the John C. Campbell Folk School for another week of watercolor. I look forward to my annual art vacation all year long. It is my total escape from work and home and a wonderful way to recharge and renew. I learn not only how to paint better, I learn lessons about myself that translate back into my professional life. My new insight this summer was on my attitude toward mistakes and errors.
Here is what happened: I was painting a picture of flowers in a water can (shown at right.) I had finished the flowers and was pleased at how the painting was progressing. Earlier that day, my instructor, Elly Hobgood showed us how to create texture by splattering paint on wet and dry surfaces. I loaded up my brush with dark green paint and splat – too much paint, what a mess. Chagrinned at having ruined a morning’s work, I then went to add more texture only to accidentally drop a huge blob of water thus going from bad to worse. Frustrated at my obvious clumsy paint technique, I put down my brush and walked to the back of the room to sulk.
Determined to somehow save this disaster, I walked back to my painting table only to see Elli looking down at my painting. Anticipating her advice to start over, I was amazed when she said: “Great painting.” The paint had started to dry and out of the soupy mess emerged a wonderfully textured watering can and flowers. (Bonus watercolor tip for any of my readers who dabble in watercolor: always wait until the paint dries before labeling a work a disaster.)
I connect this art lesson to my professional life with this axiom: when faced with what you consider a mistake, reframe how you view it. If you are defining success in a narrow way, you will not see a positive outcome if it looks different from your initial expectations.
More specifically, I like to advise business leaders facing a dilemma or a perceived failure to reexamine their expectations for the outcome rather than the outcome itself. My expectation for my painting was for it to be a photo-realistic rendering of the flowers and watering can. When I shifted my expectation away from realism to be more on capturing the qualities of texture, shape and value, the painting went from failure to success.
A few years ago, I was coaching a business leader who was frustrated that one of her direct reports lacked the interpersonal skills to form solid social relationships at work. The staff member had a stellar track record and met or exceeded all business goals but he had no interest in the social side of work and considered small talk in business meetings a total waste of time. My client had been coaching the staff member for months on the nuances of relationship building but did not see any change in behavior. Her question to me was: “What am I doing wrong? Why have I failed to help this person grow?” I challenged her definition of failure by asking her to stop evaluating outcome and to look more closely at her expectations. Her expectations to change this person’s fundamental personality were unrealistic from the start. A more reasonable expectation might be to value the person’s work ethic and productivity while encouraging some small changes in interpersonal style and behavior.
Before you use the words mistake or failure, take a good look at your expectations. If they were reasonable, then you probably do need to correct or start over. But if your expectations were for more than you could deliver, take a deep breath, walk to the back of the room, and brood for a while. When you return to the problem, you may find that what looked like a soupy mess before has dried into something quite acceptable, even beautiful.