Risky Business

The movie that launched Tom Cruise’s career is celebrating its thirty year anniversary. Feeling old? The key scene, the one that launches all the movie mayhem and should serve as inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere, involves a conversation between Joel (Tom Cruise) and his risk-loving, live-on-the-wild-side, friend Miles (Curtis Armstrong). Miles says to an indecisive Joel: “Sometimes you gotta say what the …. Saying this brings you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future. So Joel, your parents are going out of town?” (Click here to see the scene. Warning: it is not rated G.) Unfortunately, while Joel takes this advice to heart, his implementation of Miles’ big idea falls woefully short. Bad things happen as mistakes are followed by more mistakes.

I’m not sure that Dr. Porter was thinking of Miles when he was reading my blog post about celebrating failure in the college, but he too took his advice. Dr. Porter challenged his 500-plus Capstone students to write about a failure and what they learned from it. He then asked each student to post their entry as a comment on my blog for everyone to see. Dr. Porter offered a mere five points of extra credit out of one thousand total points for the course to participate.

About a third of the students enrolled in the course got out of their comfort zones and took the challenge. These 177 students should be congratulated for the courage they exhibited in completing this assignment. About half of the responses involved a personal failure. Two in ten responses were about a job or job related failures. The remaining third of the entries missed the point of the assignment. The overall assessment of the Capstone instructors was that one in four entries was ‘valuable’ reading. I am encouraged enough by these results to start a new tradition in the College and am going to feature my four favorite entries as my Wednesday blog post over the next month. In week five, we will do a vote of our readers to determine the winner.

To be successful in this competition, students had to do three things: (1) experience a meaningful failure; (2) think about the lessons they learned from it; and (3) articulate these lessons in a way that could benefit others. Perhaps some college seniors simply haven’t had enough life experiences to encounter significant failure, but I was most concerned by the number of students who couldn’t articulate the general lessons learned from their experiences. Clarifying the rules of the competition will help in this regard, but the entries revealed a clear shortcoming in our students’ ability to demonstrate a capacity to articulate the lessons learned from past mistakes. They cannot become successful business professionals and leaders without developing this skill. So, let’s use this new competition to benchmark our progress in improving on this important outcome. If we don’t help students learn from failure, I fear my frequent Miles-like advice in blog posts is going to create a whole lot of Joel-like escapades.

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One thought on “Risky Business

  1. Not being scared to fail is one of the most beneficial traits any business person can acquire. By failing we do learn some important life lessons. It is my belief that the ACTIONS one takes after failing is what should be highlighted. For example, in baseball if you go 0 for 4 and strike out every at bat then one could say the lessons learned are that baseball is physically challenging, mentally tough, and some days things just don’t go your way. If you focus on the actions taken after the failure, then one can see the true character in a person.

    The next day, the player who failed 4 times in one game got up at 6AM to study the pitcher for the next game. At 7AM he hit 100 balls off a tee. Next, he watched some film of his best games, analyzing his swing. Then he spent 30 minutes visualizing success. After that, he went to the batting cage and took 3 sets of pregame batting practice before even stepping on the field for team practice. The lessons we learn from failure are one thing and the actions we take after failure are another.

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