Failure Never Feels Good, but Being a Passionate Explorer Does
Overview: What does success take? These stories are examples of Compuware’s passionate explorers, people willing to experiment, make mistakes and continuously learn to reach success.
Accomplish everything. Maintain absolute certainty. Stave off rejection. We’re prone to believe these are the requirements for success in business, whether from an individual or an organizational perspective. They aren’t.
Things may look perfect on the outside, but there are often loads of complexity and painful struggle behind successful outcomes. This complexity and struggle often creates the necessary learning experiences that lead to success.
These learning experiences usually aren’t easy—but willing yourself to dream up and experiment with new ideas, some you end up trashing; embracing risk, uncertainty and failure across your company: such is the path of a passionate explorer, the true path to success for an individual and for an organization. Passionate explorers are eager to learn something new, and part of learning is making mistakes, transforming from failures.
And there’s more on the line than your ego when you’re a passionate explorer. Business is about people, so more than anything, your success depends on that of your customers and colleagues. Talk about pressure then, if being a passionate explorer requires you to embrace criticism, doubt, imperfection, uncertainty and still have faith in what you’re trying to deliver for someone else.
No wonder people shy away from this path and take shelter in the status quo. It’s tough! That’s why successful outcomes are often so visible and rewarding. I love how Seth Godin puts it in What to Do When It’s Your Turn: (and It’s Always Your Turn):
People who are open to uncertainty are the pathfinders for the rest of us. They are the ones who walk on the moon, who start important nonprofits, who paint paintings worth falling in love with. We stare at them with admiration and shower them with opportunities and gratitude. Not because they take big risks, but because they are willing to live with not knowing.”
Are You Willing to Live with Not Knowing?
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says, “If you’re going to take bold bets, they’re going to be experiments. And if they’re experiments, you don’t know ahead of time if they’re going to work. Experiments are by their very nature prone to failure.”
I experienced this firsthand when I launched The Modern Mainframe, Compuware’s new podcast. I had no experience in this space, but I knew it would be a powerful medium for Compuware to share thought leadership through. After months of research, our marketing team was ready to execute on the plan.
One of my first interviews was with DevOps luminary Gene Kim. I felt confident because I had collaborated with him on other things before, but I also had the feeling I needed to nail this interview with a new personal level of aplomb considering Gene was on a tight schedule while visiting our office in Detroit.
Of course, everything totally fell apart. The mic wouldn’t work. All of the possible issues I’d practiced troubleshooting leading up to this moment were somehow now unsolvable. As I sat in a room alone with Gene, trying to figure things out, you can bet I was feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed.
I finally told Gene the interview wasn’t going to work, that I couldn’t figure out the problem. “No worries!” he said. “We’ll reschedule.” And we did. In fact, the episode is available to listen to now.
The audio issue, it turns out, was caused by an update I had made to my PC a day earlier. It turned out Gene was exhausted that day anyway, having spent hours learning from various people across the company about the innovative things Compuware is accomplishing.
By rescheduling, he had more time to prepare answers to my questions that he would feel comfortable with. What’s more, I had better questions to ask him by the time we conducted our rescheduled interview.
I may have experienced a slight setback, a failure in that moment, but it didn’t ruin the podcast, or that particular interview. If anything, I’m more confident now in this new endeavor—I experienced a podcaster’s worst nightmare on day one.
Welcoming Learning Opportunities
Failure never feels good in the moment. It’s disheartening. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. But when you recover from that dejection, that discouragement, you experience an ironic, heartening feeling of membership. Because you’ve joined the club of those who welcome the possibility that their ideas and experiments may lead nowhere at first—they welcome it because, eventually, those ideas might lead somewhere.
I have many colleagues at Compuware who have also experienced this in their own right. They’ve gone through the painful experiences of passionate exploration, and they’ve achieved success for themselves, our company and, most importantly, our customers because of that passionate exploration.
Past, Present—Continuous Learning
“Every day at Compuware is a learning experience. There have been many interesting challenges over the many years here, such as first starting out and having to learn Abend-AID; learning MVS internals; or balancing family and work life.
“However, the most challenging opportunity came when I was assigned to the Strobe development team. I had been on the Abend-AID team for over 25 years and was quite knowledgeable with that product. When I was transferred to the Strobe development team, I went from being an expert to a novice.
“This was an eye-opening experience in that, as one comes to realize, there is always something new to learn, especially today with the ever-changing computing environment. Even experienced developers have learning curves.
“I continually rely on my past experiences, hard work and collaboration with my co-workers. It always helps to discuss the difficult issue at hand with someone else even if no one knows the answer.
“I now feel comfortable mentoring our newer team members, sharing my past experiences with them as well as openly discussing difficult issues I work on.”
Listen, Learn, Adapt
“I was still a fairly new employee when I picked up a big enhancement for Abend-AID and Abend-AID for CICS, which was to rework Abend-AID’s disassembler. My goal for the rework was to cut out the tedious and time-consuming work of updating our disassembler every time a new instruction set or format was released. It was my first big project and I really did not know where to begin.
“First, I had to understand the scope of the change and how our disassembler currently worked to make the necessary changes, which is key. An even bigger help to the start of this task was my team members, specifically Tom Marchant and Tony Meyer in this case, and the culture here at Compuware which truly embraces the idea of collaboration and not being afraid to ask for some help when you need it.
“As I started making changes I started to understand the complexity and depth that a change like this entails and how inexperienced and shallow my understanding was. Looking back, I may have set a record for how many times I entered code review.
“However, listening is a skill, and each time I got my changes sent back to me from code review I made a conscious effort to listen to what my mentors told me, learn from my mistakes and adapt my practices, approaches and thought process.
“Every day is an opportunity for me to practice and enhance those adaptations to help provide the best product for our customers.”
Never Fear Change
“I’ve spent a fair amount of my 25-plus years at Compuware creating new positions for myself to address and fix issues no one else owned. As the File-AID Product Launch Manager, I recognized an opportunity to promote the success our customers were having with our tools in preparation for the year 2000, and thus became responsible for creating case studies.
“However, we didn’t have a good network of country websites to promote them, so I took on the role of Web Marketing Manager and worked to establish a single, multi-lingual website with consistent branding and messaging.
“That effort helped uncover disparate email marketing practices with a multitude of local country vendors, which were inconsistent, expensive and, at times, not very professional. We fixed that problem by adopting an in-house email management platform for global office use.
“Throughout my career, I was very much hands-on and loved every minute of it. These efforts led me to become Compuware’s Digital Marketing Director, overseeing all international website and email marketing activity. A twist in this position for me now, though, is that I’m challenged with quantifying our results and making future decisions based on past performance.
“While our marketing effectiveness always seemed obvious—what with cohesive branding and reduced costs—what’s more challenging is being able to measure our effectiveness in terms of analyzing our lead generation efforts and tying marketing consumption to sales opportunities.
“This has required a major mindset shift for me. However, I’ve been able to make that shift through things like learning the reporting capabilities of a tool like Hubspot, learning to strategically create targeted marketing campaigns and working more closely with Sales to help strengthen Marketing’s impact on sales cycles. This has been exciting and something I’m becoming more passionate about on a daily basis.”
From Mentor to Mentee
“I’ve worked with Xpediter for over 20 years. Late last year, I was asked to assist the ISPW Server (Mainframe) team. I jumped in and did find that the water was deeper than I’d thought.
“Most of the code I have to examine/modify is IBM C code. I’m pretty rusty there. I’m an Assembler programmer, tried and true. I also found out that I need to learn to use a different debugger than I’m used to.
“So, I’ve been given my own ISPW test environment (which I’ve had to figure out how to use); a way to compile the ISPW programs I need to look at with the new debugger; and a great deal of time in the debugger’s manuals to determine how to use the product.
“The learning/stretching never ends—which is a good thing! And the other folks on the team are patient and very helpful. I’m used to mentoring…but now I’m a mentee.”
Welcome to the Club
These stories are examples of what it takes to be a passionate explorer, to be a person who’s willing to learn and make mistakes, to experiment with multiple approaches again and again and again, until you get it right.
And I think when you realize you are one of the people in your company, in the world, who are willing to make mistakes and learn until you succeed—it makes it a little easier to feel okay when you fail, which makes it a little easier to feel comfortable dreaming up the things that make a difference for your colleagues, your company and your customers.
Compuware is dense with passionate explorers, and we’re helping customers who want to transform and build their ranks of passionate explorers too. Maybe it’s time to let us help you, or maybe we’re the kind of company you want to join. Either way, you’ll find the passion you’re looking for.