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I Knocked My Daughter Off Her Bike On Purpose (Forced Failure Builds Character)

October 31, 2013

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Daddy, will you teach me to ride a bike?

Sure sweetie. Climb on your bike. Just balance there a minute. Keep your feet on the pedals. I’m going to let go.

Won’t I fall over?

Yes. Trust me.

And that’s how I taught my oldest daughter to ride a bike. We were in the park next to our house. The park was also a baseball field. The grass was thick and lush. . .
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. . . and soft. I knew the biggest fear that my daughter had was that she would fall off. By getting the worst case scenario out of the way first, it removed a lot of the fear. She was riding in no time.

But, how does that relate to business? No one wants to fail. And if you told a new hire that you were giving them an assignment so that would fail and “get it over with,” it would definitely be over, probably along with your career. But, the concept stays the same. We know that at times employees are going to fail at tasks. For that matter, we know that we, as managers are going to occasionally fail at tasks.

So, how do you remove the fear?

I do it with advice I call “In the absence of orders: Attack!” It’s the first “rule” I explain to my teams. The saying is attributed to Edwin Rommel, the German General. I first heard it as a young cadet in BYU’s ROTC program. Regardless of where it comes from, the concept is if you don’t know what to do. . do something. I explain it to my teams this way,

There will come a point where a decision needs to be made that I would normally be asked to make, but I’m not going to be available. When that time comes, I want you to go ahead and make the call. If you will promise to honestly use your best judgement, I will back you, even if it turns out to be the wrong decision.

I’ve used this rule for more than 10 years. In all that time, I can count on one hand the number of times that an employee made the wrong decision. And none of those were serious. One time the issue was with my favorite employee, Dave ( We had RESMARK installed in a beta site in Moab, UT about 3 hours south of our offices in Orem, UT. Dave announced one morning that the beta servers were not responding. And they couldn’t remotely log into them to tell them to reboot. (Our standard troubleshooting technique.)

Someone has to go manually reboot them.

Can’t we have one of the employees at the client location do that?

No. The servers are up and running they just won’t respond. I want to know what it says on the screen and figure out why we can’t remote into them.

So, my day was put on hold and I headed to Moab. It’s actually a beautiful drive down Spanish Fork Canyon and through Price and finally into the Green River country. It’s dry, but beautiful mountain desert.
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Two and a half hours later (pretty sure “speed patrolled by aircraft” doesn’t work well down some of those canyons) I walked into the client’s location to see the power button on our Dell servers blinking blue. When a power button is blinking blue, it means, “I’ve shut myself down and if you want me to wake up, just push the power button.” So, I pushed the power button. One of our client’s employees was standing there watching me,

Did you really have to drive down from Orem? Couldn’t we do that?

Yeah. . .yeah, you could.

Well, there are some other, ah, pieces of the software I needed to check on, and stuff.

The server came up clean and I got in my car and did two and a half hours back to Orem.

We had a short debrief with a couple of the developers. As we were wrapping up, I asked Dave to stay behind a minute.

That was a mistake. Let’s try to not make that one again.

And with that he walked out of my office.

You don’t need to set your employees up for failure, but make sure that they know that screw ups are okay. Screw ups are opportunities to learn. And like I told Dave, try not to make the same one twice.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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From → Team Building

  1. I just want to point out that it’s, um, *three* and a half hours to Moab, not two. Even the way you drive. It’s exactly 212.3 miles from RESMARK’s front door to the MAC parking lot. Not that I counted or anything. 🙂

    • Apparently I drive faster in my memory. I think I averaged 75 mph on a few of those trips. I would have made better time if it weren’t for the cops in Price. I went EXACTLY the speed limit through there.

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