Getting Back on the Bike

It’s what we do after we fall that matters.

The other day, attached to an email from an old family friend, was a video — an old home movie shot on a spring day, probably on Super 8, with no audio. It shows a little boy on a big new bike. His mom gives him a shove and he pedals a confident loop around the front yard. But, when he stops, his legs can’t reach the ground, and he falls hard, with the bike on top of him. He looks at his mom, shakes it off, and walks the bike back to try again. The banana seat comes up to his ribs, and he has to use the porch step to climb back on. The next fall isn’t as hard. Soon, he’s riding like an old pro.

I haven’t thought about that bicycle in years, but the video brought it all back. It was a beauty. When I pedaled really hard, the handlebar streamers fluttered out and I imagined I was flying. I don’t really remember falling down, but I do remember worrying that I would. I was afraid I couldn’t learn to ride that gorgeous bike. And I remember my mom assuring me that I could.

This object lesson in falling and getting back up came at a good time for me. It’s been many, many years since I’ve faced something where I actually worried about failing. But this pandemic and the economic fallout — defined largely by what we don’t know — is a confidence shaker. What if we don’t have what it takes? There is so much riding on each decision and each action that it can be paralyzing if we let it.

Here are a few lessons we can all take from a little boy, a big bike, his mom and a spring day. We only fail if we stop trying. We will learn the skills we need and someday we will master the bike because we will grow to fit it. It will take us to places we’ve never been. And that sense of freedom will be magical.

Today, around the world, we face a challenge that is bigger than any of us can face alone. It’s seriously intimidating. We also face an opportunity to explore new things and to liberate ourselves from outdated assumptions and business practices. Many of us in the Live Events industry share an audacious vision that requires us to get back on the bike and keep riding. We will most certainly fall a few times, but we can help each other back up. And we can keep pedaling until our fear becomes joy.

Our industry-wide movement is adding members every day. You can join us at www.golivetogether.com. You can learn about opportunities for action and toolkits you can use to engage your employees, partners, the media, and legislators.

Bring your worst fears and your brightest hopes. We’ve got this.

The Value of Failure

Business people, high school football coaches and politicians like to talk about winning as if it were the only acceptable — only possible — outcome of any endeavor. It’s driven by a sort of superstitious belief that even thinking about failure is tantamount to allowing it to happen. I like to win as much as the next guy, but it’s worth taking a moment to consider the value of failure.

For better or worse, I consider myself something of an authority on the subject of making mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as an employee, as a boss, as a spouse and as a parent. And here’s what I’ve learned. If your goal is to never fail, you must limit your actions to doing what you’ve always done. As one business pundit put it, “Only the mediocre are always at their best.”  But, if your goal is to reach higher and achieve something new, you must expect to fail quickly and course-correct until you get it right. If you aren’t failing, you’re not pushing hard enough.

Of course, nobody likes to make mistakes, and if we do it often enough, it can damage our self-esteem. This makes people risk-adverse and stifles innovation. That’s why I always ask leaders to give their people a safe place to fail. This doesn’t mean, however, that we look the other way and pretend the mistakes haven’t happened.  Or blame someone else. We all need to own our mistakes. When we overlook failures, in ourselves or in others, we are throwing away the invaluable opportunity to understand what went wrong and learn how to improve next time.

They say that it took Thomas Edison 1,000 attempts before he invented a working electric light bulb. He recognized the first 1000 “failures” as learning steps that made success possible. The value of failure is that we learn how to learn. The only true failure is not learning.