The Seven Stages of Failure

Thomas Edison once said, "I don't fail. I have just figured out 1000 ways it didn't work."

There's so much truth to that statement, but most of us become blindsided by that word we fear most: Failure.

The 'F' word. Really it's just a bunch of 's' words. Scary. Shameful. Sh**ty.

When failure happens, it can get under our skin like an old boyfriend or girlfriend. And we can't seem to shake them off. Too often we let it become a constant reminder that we aren't good enough or perhaps we never were?

Yet if we open up the failure and examine it, there is a profound lesson to learn. And it's often not the one we thought. I've found this comes as a huge gift. We need to look for it.

A couple of professors at the University of California Berkeley (and yes, one of them moonlights at Princeton), John Danner and Mark Coopersmith, interviewed an impressive group of highly successful people about failure and incorporated their insights into a new book, "The Other 'F' Word: How Smart Leaders, Teams and Entrepreneurs Put Failure to Work." They spoke with executives we have all heard of, entrepreneurs who invented products we covet and other cool folks.

Each person reflected on a time they failed, how they dealt with it and most importantly, what in the world they learned from it. And interestingly enough, a lot of important and soulful stuff emerges. They remind us that failure is a necessary part of discovery and can lead to success, not its opposite. But it is how we understand and respond to failure that dictates whether it becomes a career stopper or a pathway to huge opportunity.

Mostly as parents we focus on improving our kids' self-esteem by asking "what did you excel at today?" But this was not the case for Spanx billionaire, Sara Blakely. She was raised assessing her failure early on because her father made it a point to ask: "What did you fail at today?" Sara's father makes us think about whether we should hone our kids' and employees' grit and determination by focusing on the lessons learned from the small daily failures.

There is much I liked about this book, a big takeaway was how well it deconstructed failure in a systematic way. It reminds us to 'respect the gravity of failure' so we take it seriously. Danner and Coopersmith identify the seven stages of failure and provide excellent advice.

Respect - the gravity of failure in an inevitably fallible organization 
Rehearse - protocols you will use for handling a range of failures
Recognize - signals of failure to buy time to minimize long term impacts
React - effectively to failure
Reflect - thoughtfully, quickly, thoroughly to reasons for the failure
Rebound - to after effects and incorporate the lessons learned
Remember - to embed your experience and make sure it is in the cultural memory of the organization

This book is a great practical guide for personal and professional innovation and growth. It can help us all gain more skills and the confidence to just go for it.

As they say, why waste a good failure.

Dust ourselves off and learn to fail forward. That is what Danner and Coopersmith help us do in their new book.

How Does a Girl Make it Into the Boy's Club?

With recent attention and important conversation going on about the dearth of women in tech and venture capital it reminded me of a story that left myself and a colleague of mine with our jaws on the floor.

"Next time, can you bring the real decision-makers?" This is how a young venture capitalist ended our meeting.

We had agreed to meet at his office to discuss merging two new regional efforts to grow the biotech, life sciences and research industry and discuss a way forward.

With both our faces scrunched in confusion, we simultaneously said, "What?" We thought we had misheard him. After all, I was no slouch, I was a serial entrepreneur, had been elected Businessperson of the Year a few years earlier and was serving as the founding CEO of this new organization. And the Chair was the beloved former Mayor of Seattle, its first African-American one.

Turns out we hadn't. Furious, we politely shook hands and exited.

Later that afternoon, I relayed this story to my friend, Jennifer James, a noted cultural anthropologist and futurist. She explained, "You and Norm didn't realize women and people of color are only given day passes to the club, never full membership. They only renew the day pass when they believe you can be helpful to them." I have never forgotten this insight and it has helped me through the confusion and disappoint in the work life we sadly still find ourselves in.

So, if we can only get a day pass how do we get into the Boy's Club?

Here are my how to's:

1) Don't take it personally. 
This is hard. Not getting that entrance card is probably not about you or your competence. That doesn't mean stop listening, observing, learning the non-verbal ways to be more effective. The most effective leaders never do. Just stop beating yourself up that "if only I were [smarter, worked harder, etc.]" you would get that sought after opportunity.

2) Do something incredible again and again.
Unless you checked your brain, eyes and ears at the house when you left in the morning you are seeing opportunities for extraordinary work all around you. Too often we are waiting to be asked or for the stars to align so risk is small. It ain't going to happen. Have the courage and determination to seize one of those insights and make it happen. Then the management and world will notice and whether you were in the Boy's Club or not will no longer matter.

Scary to imagine this and take the leap? Yes. But you are way more capable than you think. Will you bloody your nose along the way? Yes. You will produce beyond what you thought was possible.

And once you produce something amazing, do it again.

3) Where you work or whom you work with really matters. 
If the top management or the layers above in your company are almost all white or all male- don't waste your time. Your skills and your ability to lead are not likely to be rewarded in that company or organization. Don't waste time wondering whether you could be the exception. Past and present screams, "not likely."

It might have been different in 1970 as the avalanche of women and people entered aiming for the top jobs. In 2015 it's, "What are you pretending not to know?" This makes me really sad. And I know there are some really inspired leaders who are remaking their companies. Work with them.

Find a place where you can hit the ball out of the park and get the brass ring you deserve. It may not have the biggest name on the door and therefore, some things will be harder to do. But, if people like you aren't being recognized for what they are delivering at the big name place, become a disruptor innovative or join one who is.

Yes, it's true. Life is not fair. But that doesn't mean you still can't have the most awesome life anyways. Go out there and get it. I try to remind myself of that this every day.

Smartphones Are Smart Foreign Policy

Today, with more mobile phones than people on Earth, any savvy foreign policy recognizes the power of this small device to do good or evil in the world. Gone are the days when rebels and reformers fought only using guns and physical bombs. Whether it is managing logistics, sending text messages to incite or inspire or using mobiles for recruitment, this portable machine is as important as any as weapon.

We are seeing this innovation in both the government sector and hot technology start-ups. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, with advice fromAlec Ross, she made technology a centerpiece of her 21st-century statecraft. The Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry have also embraced digital technologies. In fact, mobiles are a key method for achieving President's Obama foreign-aid goal of creating conditions where aid is not necessary.

Turning to U.S.-based start-ups, the brilliant and nerdy Josh Stern developed a mission-critical mobile-messaging platform now used in over 150 countries. Telerivetallows data to be collected and is used for security, humanitarian purposes and commerce -- both cheaply and easily. It isn't just another messaging system. Its platform has ways to, when needed, prevent outsiders from finding out who is sending information so as to not put that person at risk. From beauty-parlor owners scheduling their clients to supply chains where source security is not essential to security information garnered deep in Southern Somalia, the versatility of their technology simply takes one's breath away. Already being used by diplomatic and foreign-assistance providers, the range of its foreign affairs capabilities is the best definition of "transformative."

However, most foreign-policy attention has been placed on mobile messaging -- for example, the role Twitter and Facebook played in catalyzing people in Moldova, Egypt and Iran. Security experts understandably worry about how mobile can be used to detonate bombs or cause destruction. Beyond messaging, the ways mobiles are being used for good and evil are intriguing.

A true game changer in the foreign-policy conversation has been the impending explosion of turning phones into wallets. At this week's gathering of the mobile industry in Barcelona (with over 86,000 people from over 200 countries), it is clear that mobile money is changing the landscape in developing countries. It is now available in 89 countries, and over 300 million people have set up mobile money accounts on their phones. Now they can use their phone to store money, buy and sell goods and services and send money to or accept money from relatives.

What exactly is mobile money? Think of using mobile money in your wallet like you use a debit card. You also deposit cash into your wallet at your local bodega or have someone transfer money onto it. It's so convenient and is spurring all sorts of new entrepreneurial opportunities and new financial services for both the rich and poor. With up to 2 billion people who own cellphones but don't have bank accounts, mobile money provides a personal financial safety net for the poor and a point-of-sale machine for, say, a small farmer who wants to buy his supplies from a cheaper vendor miles away.

We also can't be complacent about the risks to our national security or global financial systems. What if malware like the one that snuck into the retail terminals at Target and Home Depot all across the country, grabbing over 100 million of our credit card numbers, were unleashed on our mobiles? Experts are worried Al-Qaeda is working on ways to worm their way into peopl'es mobile phones through a simple game -- spying and hoping to steal money.

Just as we would not throw away our credit cards, we would be foolish to throw 7 billion phones in the trash because of these risks. But let's take a minute to look at how the massive opportunity to use our phones as digital wallets could result in people being safer and more prosperous. Government and foreign-policy experts must rapidly work together to usher in this innovation while also ensuring systems are in place to minimize terrorist financing, money laundering and theft.

Interestingly, U.S. women have been at the forefront of crafting the important global policy initiatives in this area -- to both rapidly roll out and supercharge the benefits while being savvy about ways to protect the global financial economy and reduce the likelihood that terrorists and criminals could effectively use this channel for massive money movements. Here are two examples.

While at the Gates Foundation, Priya Jaisinghani, USAID's Director of Mobile Solutions, provided some of the first grants to study how this powerful technology and service of mobile money could be used by billions of poor people for their finances, agricultural businesses and health services. She went on to lead the first division of any foreign-assistance office to focus on mobiles, and her thought leadership continues to shape the products and services that mobile phone companies think to offer their customers.

Then there's the relentless and compelling Kay McGowan, a U.S. State Department foreign-service officer now at USAID. She has pushed the build-out of mobile money in Afghanistan with private-sector leadership coming from Karim Khoja, CEO of the mobile operator Roshan. Early mobile-money pilots unveiled the fact that 30 percent had been skimmed off their salary payments when "trusted agents" delivered their cash payments. Today she continues to be the fiercest advocate of getting Afghanistan officials to switch salary payments for police, military officers and teachers from cash to their cellphones.

To learn more from smart women on foreign policy, mobile money and more, listen to the coolest new podcast, "Smart Women, Smart Power," hosted by Nina Easton. I sat down with her last week to further discuss the importance of mobile money and foreign policy. Listen here. I highly recommend that you subscribe to this series.