You’re Fired!
Week Four: What Are You Afraid Of?

Some of us are afraid of failure, others of success. In his book “Failing Forward,” John Maxwell explains that failure is not something to fear but to embrace for its ability to teach. Maxwell’s concepts were illustrated on this week’s episode of The Apprentice starring Bren as “The Risk Taker,” Kristen as “The Blamer,” and, with a surprise performance by Michael as “Maxwell’s Star Student.” Both teams failed at this week’s task, but one failed more intelligently than the other.

Ring the Bell

Traditional education is arranged so that a percentage of students must fail, the majority of students get by and a few succeed. Those who succeed know to avoid failure at all cost. “In fact,” says Maxwell “the school environment often reinforces people’s worst feelings and expectations about failure.” It is an understatement to say that this is a system that does not embrace taking risks. Bren exhibited one of the “Failing Forward” traits when he first confronted Michael about his behavior and then convinced the team to take a risk with his vision for the commercial. If he truly is a student of Maxwell, he’ll be willing to take risks in future episodes rather than being limited by this mistake. Time will tell.

Okay, I’ll Help With The Cucumber Porno

Michael was in the hot seat last week. His team wanted him fired. He was put on notice and told what was expected of him. Apparently learning from the experience, he became a team player. Despite his concerns about Bren’s concept for the commercial, he vowed to help his team “make the best cucumber porno” possible.

William Dean Singleton said “Instead of try and try again. Try, then stop and think. Then try again.” Derek McCully, a lighting specialist with Philip McCully & Associates, explains that “Any time we’re not successful in writing an order, we consider it a failure. We use that experience to determine what we can do better or different in the future.” Sharla Sola, marketing expert with the University of Illinois, agrees. “The key to failure is always evaluation and introspection. Some of my most vivid growing experiences have come out of failure.”

Fail Early

These principles apply equally to our children. If children are protected at home and at school, they won’t have the skills to use failure to propel them forward. According to Maxwell, “In life, the question isn’t if you will have problems but how you are going to deal with your problems. Are you going to fail forward or backward?”

It’s natural for parents to want to protect their children and the best way to do this is to prepare them for all aspects of life. Each child is different in their approach to problems, disappointment and failure. Those who fail backward take it personally and think “I am a failure.” Some expect to continually fail while others expect to never fail again. Some repeat the same mistakes, blame others or simply quit. These are painful- and unproductive – responses to an experience we all share.

Parents, teachers and community members need to work together to teach our children better skills. Successful people know that failure is part of the process and maintain a positive attitude. They learn, assess and persevere. They continue to take risks and they take responsibility. The only way this can happen is if children are allowed to fail when it’s safe to do so: in a nurturing learning environment. Classroom tasks need to be challenging and relevant. They also need to incorporate all learning styles, a variety of content areas and workplace skills. This allows students to experience success, work on skills which do not come easily, learn to ask for help from their peers and share their talents with team members. Properly designed project-based learning activities offer our children these opportunities.

Responsibility and Reality

This week’s final star, Kristen, was a tremendous example of failing backward. The day started badly with team member Audrey saying “Shoot yourself in the foot. I don’t give a damn.” Rather than stopping and pulling together all the resources of the team, Kristen tried to do the entire task herself. Failing at that, she moved to place the blame on the team she shut out. To add to the confusion, in describing her performance, Kristen said she “did a great job,” “pulled my team together,” “took initiative” and, most astounding, that “everyone respected me.”

Theodore Roosevelt said “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” Author Michael Korda adds “responsibility” to the formula saying “Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility.” A grasp of reality would also be a nice touch. Kristen, you had none of these. You failed backwards. You’re fired.

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