Tag Archives: mistakes

Hustling Errors

In 1992, Jimmy Johnson, then coach of the Dallas Cowboys, cut running back “Swervin’” Curvin Richards after he fumbled in the last game of the regular season.  That in itself wasn’t so surprising.  Coach Johnson had a temper, and he didn’t suffer fumblers lightly.  But what was surprising was that Johnson would cut Richards but defend two other players who made similar mistakes in the same quarter of the same game.

Truth be told, all three mistakes were inconsequential.  Dallas would go on to win the game 27-14 over the Chicago Bears.  They had already secured a bye for the first weekend of the playoffs.  The game was nothing more than a notation in the record books as this particular Dallas team went on to win its third Super Bowl in dominating fashion.

The problem was not that mistakes had been made.  Richards’ fumble did result in a touchdown for the opposing team, but so did Steve Beuerlein’s interception.  Alvin Harper also turned the ball over…and all these happened in the fourth quarter.  So, why didn’t Johnson cut all three players?  Why did Richards alone incur Johnson’s wrath?

According to Johnson, it was because Beuerlein and Harper committed “hustling errors” while Richards simply showed the sloppiness that comes from a poor work ethic.  Beuerlein and Harper were forgiven because they were hustling; they were trying to make something happen.  They were taking risks and trying to get the momentum back for an offensive team that had started to focus their attention on the playoffs before the game had even ended.

Richards, on the other hand, failed to execute one of the fundamentals of his job.  Had he shown more diligence on the practice field, he might have been spared.  But Johnson was irritated with the running back for his lackluster approach to the game.  Johnson used this opportunity to teach his team an important lesson.  There are mistakes, and then there are mistakes.  Mistakes made while taking risks and trying new approaches will be forgiven.  Mistakes made because of poor preparation will not.


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Filed under coaching, failure, forgiveness, grace, justice, leadership, management, mentoring, mistakes

The Peter Principle

According to the Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards, Inc., nearly one-third of lottery winners go bankrupt.  There are undoubtedly a variety of reasons, but I have an idea about the root cause.  That which is earned without effort is often beyond our abilities to handle.

Maybe nearly one-third of lottery winners go bankrupt because they have not developed the financial maturity necessary to cope with so much money.  The internet is full of stories of lottery winners who invested in lousy business ventures, lent money to the wrong people, spent the money faster than it came in and even sold their rights to incremental payments for some up-front cash.

In this case, what is true of the lottery is true of leadership.  Those who receive lightning-fast promotions are typically singed in the process.  They rise within the organization faster than their skills develop.  Before long, they find themselves in a position that they can’t handle, and the results are usually messy.  Demotions, terminations, transfers to dead-end positions or dead-end teams, reduced responsibilities, early retirement…  If for some time no one seems to notice a manager’s incompetence, the manager will often try to cover it up.  The more there is at stake (pay, perks, pride, prestige…) the more desperate the manager often becomes to hide his or her struggles.  This can do no end of damage to an organization and its people.

With tongue in cheek, Laurence Peter defined this process as “The Peter Principle,” which states that “in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”  He tells us that the solution is to make sure that the candidate has the skills to do the job in some degree before promoting him or her to do it.  There’s a benefit to promoting people slowly.  While they are in their current job, they should be developing the maturity and the skills they will need at the next level.  They should be making mistakes and learning from them.  (Making mistakes at lower levels of leadership is a lot less costly than making them at the higher levels.)

If you are a leader, a mentor, a coach, a parent….make sure those under your leadership are faithful with small things before you give them larger things.  When they earn it, they will learn it.

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Filed under coaching, delayed gratification, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, growth, Instant Gratification, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, parenting, performance

Failure is Better Than Success

For Christmas this year, my daughter – “A12” – had her first harp recital in front of our church in Chiang Mai. We (her mother and I) were absolutely terrified! Much more afraid than A12 let on to being.


It’s only been a short time since she was part of the choir in her class’ school musical (an almost invisible role at the very back of the stage) when she froze in a catatonic state of fear because she had to sing a few lines with the rest of the kids. When one of our friends complimented her on her performance afterward, she dissolved into sobs. So, while we were excited for her to get to play in front of an audience of 400-500, we dreaded the very real possibility that she would make a mistake and melt in the spotlight.


We had her practice over and over and over again to get it just right, and then the night came. We showed up plenty early, but things didn’t go as planned. We had been told she would have some time to warm up before service, but the Christmas drama team was doing a last-minute run-through, and they used all sixty of the last-minute seconds.


Worse, she was told that there was a change of plans and that she would only be playing during the offering and not at the beginning of service, too, as she had prepared for. This was a major bummer for her. It cut the songs she would play from five to two, so she went out behind the church to deal with her disappointment in private.


But then the plans changed again, and there were a few minutes for her to play while people found their seats. We found her out back, wiped her eyes, gave her a quick pep talk and turned on her microphone. Because the drama team had kept everyone out while they practiced, A12 was able to go through all three of her opening Christmas songs two times each while everyone came inside.


Much encouraged, she joined us in the pew while the Christmas production got under way. When it came time for the offering, she returned to her bench and began playing one of her best songs. But this time was different. There was no milling congregation creating a distracting, low hum. All eyes and ears were on A12, and she must have felt the pressure.


She missed one note, then two, then three and four… Her mother and I held our breath as she stopped to adjust one of her levers at the top of the harp, but then she played the rest of the song. It was a bit painful, because everyone knows when you miss a note in “Away in a Manger,” but she played it completely through twice before the pastor saw a natural place to break in and move to the next item on the agenda.


She didn’t get to play her best song, and she missed quite a few notes, but we were incredibly proud (and relieved) that she pushed through.


Since that night, we’ve had several adults tell us how impressed they were that she didn’t stop playing. Other musicians recognized how difficult it must have been for a young girl in front of such a large audience, and they confided that they were silently cheering her on – willing her to keep going. A few of her classmates told her how “horrible” she was, but it hasn’t seemed to phase her. She knows she accomplished something worthwhile that night.


As I reflect on the experience, it strikes me that failure is often much better than success. Success builds confidence, but too much confidence leads to complacency and arrogance. Failure, however, teaches and builds character. Many of us can say that we learned our most important lessons from failure, but we hardly ever learn something significant from success. Through failure, we gain humility, and humility keeps our minds open to learning new things. Success, on the other hand, convinces us that we already know all we need to know.


What if we didn’t fear failure so much? What if we could embrace it and learn what it has to teach us? What if we were more understanding about the failures of those around us? Wouldn’t we learn important lessons so much faster? Maybe we need a new way to look at failure, to see that it really is its own type of success. Let’s all try to fail just a little more this year…what do you say?

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Filed under Challenges, character, Christmas, Church, comfort zone, failure, parenting, success

The Loss of Dross

When a traditional silversmith works with silver, he must first remove the impurities from the rock.  He puts the ore in a crucible and then puts the crucible in a furnace.  The silver is roasted at over 1700o F (926 o C) until it melts.  Dross, a waste material made up of impurities in the silver, rises to the top.  The silversmith then skims it off the top, leaving the silver more pure.  He might need to repeat this process up to seven times to remove all the impurities, each time heating the metal until it melts before the dross comes to the top and can be easily removed.  When the silversmith can see the reflection of his image in the silver, he knows that it is pure.

If you’ve been feeling the heat lately, consider that you might be going through your own purification process.  The Center for Creative Leadership has studied leaders and what makes them successful, and they have found that Hardships account for 34% of a leader’s development experience.  In fact, Hardships teach us more than any of the other categories in their study (i.e. Challenging Assignments – 27%; Other People, like mentors, coaches and role-models – 22%; Other Events, like training, feedback, and success – 17%).

Some examples of instructive hardships include:

  • Failures and mistakes
  • Missed opportunities
  • Conflict in relationships or with organizations
  • Extended periods of stress
  • Employee performance problems
  • Personal traumas

Hard times tend to bring our weaknesses to the surface, forcing us to deal with them.  When we struggle, we find we need to abandon qualities that make us ineffective in order to get through the fire.  Being in the crucible teaches us humility, an essential quality in an effective leader.  Unchecked success leads to arrogance.  Failure reminds us that we are human and helps us understand the imperfections of others.

God allows difficult times of trial in our lives, because He loves us.  He knows that time in the crucible will surface some of our selfishness, independence, pride, meanness of spirit, impatience and any other quality that keeps us from reflecting His image.  Once He has skimmed this dross off of us, He  evaluates us to see how much of Himself He can see in us.  If the fire didn’t surface much dross, He sometimes needs to turn up the heat.

According to an old maxim, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  It’s true, but only if you allow yourself to learn from the trial.  As a friend of mine often says, don’t go through the experience and miss the meaning.  What is the purpose of the refining fire in your life?

Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith.

(Proverbs 25:4)

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Filed under Challenges, Hardship, mistakes, sin, Suffering, Trials, Valley

The Serendipity Effect

What do the following things have in common?

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Coca Cola

Ivory Soap

The Leaning Tower of Pisa


Post-It Notes

Silly Putty

Give up?  They were all products of mistakes.  Had it not been for lack of planning, miscommunications, botched experiments or just plain irresponsibility, we wouldn’t have any of them.  (You can read their stories below.)  It’s called the Serendipity Effect, and it happens when you discover something new even though you were looking in a different direction.

But really, that’s oversimplifying the process.  A mistake doesn’t automatically turn into a breakthrough.  Certain conditions need to exist first.

1) An environment of accountability. If the person who made the mistake covers it up, its potential will never be discovered.

2) A blame-free culture. If mistakes are punished and those responsible labeled, it’s next to impossible to get individuals to act with accountability.

3) Individuals empowered to think creatively. Those closest to the mistake need to be able to exercise their possibility thinking when the error is made.  Teach them to ask questions like “What can this teach us?” and “How could we use this?” or “What problem does this solve?”

What would happen if we began to celebrate mistakes on our teams?  How would your team react if the next time they made a mistake, you said, “Fantastic!  I can’t wait to see what we’re going to learn from this.”  Their reaction might tell you a lot about the culture of blame or accountability on your team.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mrs. Wakefield was making cookies one day at the Toll House Inn and realized she was out of chocolate.  She substituted baker’s chocolate and realized that it didn’t melt in the baking.

Coca Cola

Dr. Pemberton was trying to make a health tonic that would relieve headaches and stress.  (The early version probably did, since it included a derivative of the cocoa plant, and it aided sales as people became addicted to the drink’s effects.)  He took it to Jacob’s Pharmacy and asked Jacob to add water and ice to it, but Jacob accidentally added carbonated water.  The two men tasted the result and decided it would sell better as a fountain drink.

Ivory Soap

While mixing soap one day at the Proctor and Gamble Company, a man responsible for operating the soap-mixing machine went to lunch, forgetting to turn it off on his way out.  When he returned and realized his error, he found that the extra mixing had worked air into the soap.  Assuming that it was a small mistake, he sent the soap mixture on for hardening and packaging.  Within a few weeks, Proctor and Gamble was getting letters from customers asking for more of the “soap that floats.”

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Pisano intended to build a bell tower in Pisa, Italy, in 1174.  However, during construction the soil beneath the tower began to loosen and the building efforts had to be stopped.  100 years later, construction resumed, but the tower began tilting more and more each year.  Even recent attempts to pump concrete underneath didn’t help.  To Pisano, the bell tower was a complete failure, but millions have been to see the tower who couldn’t name even one other tower in all of Europe (okay, maybe one other famous one in Paris).


Frank Epperson was eleven when he accidentally left his soda powder mixed with water in a cup outside his home.  Due to record low temperatures during the night, he awoke to find his drink frozen with the stirring stick still in it.  Many years later, he remembered his mistake and created Popsicles.

Post-It Notes

Scientist Spenser Silver was doing experiments to find stronger adhesives for 3M in 1970.  One experiment was a complete failure.  The adhesive was actually weaker rather than stronger.  Four years later, Arthur Fry, another 3M scientist was having trouble keeping his spot in his hymnal as he sang in his church’s choir.  He remembered his colleague’s weak adhesive and found that it worked terrifically for sticking and peeling off paper.

Silly Putty

The US government needed a synthetic rubber for airplane tires during World War II.  Scientist James Wright experimented with a rubbery substance by adding boric acid, and the result was bouncing rubber.  In 1949, he sold the rights to Peter Hodgson, who then marketed the rubber as a toy.

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Filed under Ideas, innovation, mistakes, paradigm shift

Making a Mess

My youngest son decided to stand on the neighbor’s water line (PVC pipe) last night and broke it. Water sprayed everywhere, and we couldn’t get it to stop. Nor could we see well enough in the darkness to fix it or even assess what had broken.

I was furious, but my son’s reaction to my anger wasn’t very satisfying, so I increased the volume with some loud scolding. Still, he didn’t seem to be showing enough remorse, so I increased the volume again with a few growls and deep sighs of exasperation. They didn’t elicit the desired response, so I stomped off angrily and took a swing at an innocent towel hanging out to dry. That did the trick, and the tears began to flow.

After the adrenaline had worn off, I was embarrassed about my outburst. As I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that my anger was less about my son’s irresponsibility (it could have happened to any of us – most of the plumbing where we live is barely taped together) and more about the inconvenience it caused me.

The broken water line had to be fixed – that meant a plumber after dark – that meant money, which we’ve been handing out like candy lately. I didn’t know who to contact in Thailand at that hour to come fix a busted pipe, and I wasn’t looking forward to interacting with our neighbor (who we never talk to) about something of theirs that we broke.

Probably my angry tirade did little to “teach my son a lesson” and much to make him fear his dad’s emotional instability when a mistake has been made. The next time he breaks something, he will know who NOT to tell. If I really wanted him to learn from his mistake, a calm discussion about respecting other peoples’ property would have been much more effective.

And for all I know, the event was God’s way of getting me to talk to my neighbor. He gave me ten months since we moved in, and I haven’t even ventured over to say, “Hello.” Maybe He took things into His own hands. To love my neighbor, I probably need to know him first. A broken water line gives us a reason to interact, and it puts me in the right frame of mind to be humble when we meet.

After I made my apologies to my son, we found that the situation wasn’t as bad as I originally thought. We were able to cut off the water. Then I wrote a note, and we stuck it to our neighbors’ door together (they weren’t home at the time). We had a short discussion about the importance of respecting other peoples’ property, and the lesson seemed to register.

This morning, our neighbor came out to inspect the water line while I was reading on the patio. We had a nice discussion, learned about some things we had in common and worked out an arrangement to fix the water line. I also learned that their family is considering renting our house after we leave. Since two of their children have grown and moved out, they need less space.

We talked about the house and the owner and agreed to allow for a walk-through later this week. Before that discussion, I was a little worried about how the transition would go with our landlord, but I feel better now knowing that he will probably have a renter as soon as we are gone.

In retrospect, my mess turned out to be much bigger than the one my son made, and it was harder to clean up. Glad my Dad isn’t accustomed to flying off the handle with me. His volume tends to be more subtly and skillfully applied.

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Filed under accountability, blame, christianity, Convenience, family, grace, Inconvenience, Interpersonal, leadership, mistakes, parenting, Relationships, Teaching

Wrong Turns

A friend of mine has a GPS, called the Verizon Navigator.  It helps her when she’s driving around to know how to make it to her destination, and she was excited to get it, because following directions is not one of her spiritual gifts. 

The GPS audibly tells her where to turn and how far to go.  When she first started using it, she was curious to see what it would say if she made a wrong turn.  So she did.

She was half-expecting it to say, “Hey, Stupid!  You made another wrong turn!” but it didn’t.  It simply said, “Recalculating course.”  If she went too far in the wrong direction, it said, “Make the next U-turn.”

It’s a wonderful picture of God’s grace.  When you make wrong turns in life, if you hear, “Hey, Stupid!  You did it again!” it’s not God who’s saying it.  It’s either Satan, or he’s trained you so well that you now do it for him. 

God doesn’t beat us down for our mistakes.  His response to us is, “Recalculating course.”  While His will didn’t involve you making that choice, it’s done can’t be undone.  God replots your path from that point on. 

  • If you got pregnant out of marriage, God says, “Recalculating course.  Provide or find a good home for that baby.”
  • If you married someone who wasn’t a Christian, God says, “Recalculating course.  Be a witness for Me to your spouse.”
  • If you used drugs in high school or college, God says, “Recalculating course.  Minister to others who have made the same mistake.”
  • If you had an affair, God says, “Recalculating course.  Confess and begin to honor your spouse and die to all other choices.”

Whenever we get too far out of God’s will, He says, “Make the next U-turn.”  Repent of the sin that you are in, and turn back toward God.  As soon as you do, He will recalculate your course.

What’s so amazing is that our poor choices never compromise the sovereign will of God.  Mysteriously, miraculously, He accomplishes His complete will no matter what we do.  He allows us to choose, but none of our choices are beyond His ability to redeem them.

He IS an awesome God!  And He’s also a gracious God, but don’t go making wrong turns just to see what He’ll say.


Filed under sin, Spiritual Growth