Last week I gave a presentation to a class of undergraduate students from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. The discussion was centered on the topic of failure and how the fear of business failure is relative based on where we live in the world. The students have spent the better part of the last year working on their startup business ideas and I was impressed with what the teams were able to accomplish and where they had admitted their failures. During the discussion one brave student admitted that he had felt a fear of failing during the course of launching their student business. When asked why he had explained that all of the students knew which projects from the previous year had done well and which had failed. He didn’t want his project to be on this year’s list of failed projects. He was interviewing with potential future employers and he wanted to be able to talk about his success.
A couple of nights ago I was catching up on The Daily Show episodes and was watching Jon Stewart’s interview with Sheryl Sandberg (Part 1 and Part 2). If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and the author of the new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. During the interview Sandberg was suggesting that women need to not be afraid and lean in and to break the stereotypes by being more assertive. Let me begin by stating that I have not read the book yet and although I plan to read it, the book hasn’t made its way to the top of the stack yet. Overall I think that Sandberg raises some great points and I agreed with her on 99% of her argument but I think she missed one giant piece of the puzzle.
It seems like everyone is jumping on the Ron Johnson “failure” bandwagon the last few days. Being that he was a fellow hometown kid from Minnesota and having earned his retail chops at Target Corp I had followed Johnson’s tenure at JCPenney pretty closely over the last 17 months. When Johnson and his team launched their “Transformational Plans” for JCP back in January, 2012 I had watched the entire 93 minute presentation. I thought the presentation was articulate and very well thought through. Interestingly enough just last month I had overheard my wife commenting to a friend how she had stopped into one of the newly redesigned JCP stores and really liked it. That was the first time that I had heard her praise JCPenney in at least 10 years. Her friend had responded that she too had visited the store and really liked it. Having spent most of the last decade in retail I am always a little leery of the “sample-of-one” but two suggests a possible trend.
Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of Steve Blank‘s (@sgblank) work (I have linked to some of his recent articles below) and I did appreciate the distinction that he had drawn between teachers, mentors, and coaches in his article for LinkedIn. But as I read the article I found myself upset with his response to a question from an audience member. I felt that he had shown indifference to the audience member based on his response. The question was “How do I get you, or someone like you to become my mentor?” The individual was clearly asking for a suggestion on how to find a mentor. Steve’s response was “At least for me, becoming someone’s mentor means a two-way relationship. A mentorship is a back and forth dialog – it’s as much about giving as it is about getting. It’s a much higher-level conversation than just teaching. Think about what can we learn together? How much are you going to bring to the relationship?” Steve finished the article with this advice regarding mentorships “But never ask. Offer to give.” To me that advice sounds to close to, “I’m too busy, don’t bother me with your question.”
This morning there was a great article from MPR reporter Tom Robertson that touched on how the elimination of shop class in high schools is seen as a contributor to decline in skilled manufacturing candidate across the state. “Worker skills shortage starts in high school” parallels a book that I had read a few months back from Matthew Crawford titled Shop Class as Soul Craft. In his book Crawford asks us to examine the intent and outcomes of our fervent battle cry for all kids to go to college and to become part of the information economy rather than becoming makers, builders, and fixers.
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