October 26, 2010

Failure is not an option, except, well, sometimes it might be

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - I heard the catchy phrase 'Failure is not an option' first uttered by Nancy Maynard, the wife of the late newspaperman Bob Maynard, who I knew in the 1970s when he was publisher of the Oakland Tribune newspaper.

I loved the expression. I put 'Failure is not an option' right up there with 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going.'

That little gem came from the locker room wall at Southwestern Central High School in Jamestown, New York, where my high school football coach alternately terrorized and lauded his players, depending on the rate of success. With Coach Ed Stupka, if you didn't perform beyond your abilities, you were slacking.

I slacked a lot.

But during this same period, I  spent most daylight summer hours on Lake Chautauqua, skimming across the water on skis. I loved every minute of it, except that I was a very cautious water skier and took great pains to avoid falling.

A friend from those days, Bob Fulcher, wasn't just good, he was great. He would jump the wake, flying over the foaming water. He did all kinds of tricks. Sometimes he would even try to hold the rope in his teeth. Much of the time his acrobatic antics ended in wild crashing falls into the water.

And he didn't care. In fact, he seemed to revel in how spectacular a fall he had.

When I kidded him once about his frequent-faller program, he offered this nugget: If you don't fall sometimes, how are you going to learn how far you can push?

Indeed, Bob, indeed.

That sage advice - from a 15-year-old - has stuck with me all my life. I am still cautious on water skis (no doubt largely because of various back, neck and shoulder ailments in recent years). But I have learned to take chances. Sometimes they work, like jumping from being a newspaper editor to a journalism professor. Sometimes they don't, like buying property on a beach in Mexico, then having it seized by a developer at gunpoint who claims it is his.

As Frank Sinatra says when he croons, My Way, '...Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention.'

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, there is an interesting story about a program for entrepreneurs to learn that if they want to succeed, they have to flop sometimes. Maybe flop in spectacular ways. LINK:Failure is an option

The history of innovation and great discoveries is filled with flops, in business, science, education - and sports.

But while all that is being pondered, here's a video introduction to a TV program I watched every week growing up, along with most of the nation.

It gives graphic evidence why ski jumping (in snow) has never made it on my list of things to try - at least so far.

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