A screwup doesn’t have to ruin your life, assuming you respond in smart and creative ways. Tips for turning your fumbles into successful turning points.
I’ve admired Southwest Airlines for many years, and I’ve cited them as a company with a clear focus, a vibrant soul, and a culture you can see in all areas of their business and reflected in their business performance. And as a ridiculously frequent business traveler, I made them my preferred domestic airline many years ago. Given this and my professional respect for them, it was a real honor to be invited to speak at one of their recent management conferences. I appreciated their genuine hospitality (I was hugged quite a lot), their pride in and love for their company, and I was impressed by the investment they make in people.
At the same time, I had the pleasure of getting to know the other main speaker at the event, Jay Heinrichs. He’s an author, persuasion consultant, and raconteur, and his energy and presence was intriguing and unique. Southwest curated the content for their team and choose two key subjects (and speakers) that were diametrically opposed in almost every way. I spoke on “Designing Random Acts of Kindness” and Jay spoke on “How to Screw Up.” He believes there’s much to be learned from mistakes, mishaps, and screwing up, and given we live in a world where people and companies are doing all they can to paint a picture of perfection, I was intrigued by Jay’s perspective on “screwing up” as a business discipline.
After talking with Jay, it’s clear he’s uniquely qualified, both as an expert on rhetoric, master in the art of persuasion, and by his own self-admission, as a lifelong bungler. He admits lacking any sense of direction whatsoever, and suffers with an extreme case of permanent absent-mindedness, which according to Jay made for a pretty awkward dating life. He thanks rhetoric for helping him overcome those handicaps and despite himself has been married to a good woman for life.
His first significant encounter with screwing up professionally happened when he accidentally misplaced a volcano. Just out of college Jay was working at a conservation magazine, when Mount St. Helens started smoking. He wrote an article about how this previously inactive volcano in Oregon had suddenly become active. It was one of the first things he ever got published. Jay didn’t realize his error until an envelope with the official Washington State seal arrived on his desk. Inside was a letter from Governor Dixy Lee Ray, asking for her volcano back. Jay had screwed up and put the mountain in the wrong state, a humiliating error for a budding journalist. Frantically coming up with a solution, he walked into his boss’s office a few minutes later. Jay told him what had happened, showed him the letter, and shared his plan. “How about buying a volcano—plastic, bronze, whatever—and presenting it to her?” Jay offered. “No,” the editor in chief said. “A mistake does not earn you a trip to the West Coast. But go ahead and find a volcano. Then just mail it.” So Jay mailed it. And some weeks later, he received a photo of the governor posing with the volcano in one hand and his magazine in the other. They printed that with a correction in the next issue. Jay’s boss was so happy about the outcome that, when St. Helens exploded sometime later, he sent Jay to write a cover story. And that’s when he realized that a screwup doesn’t have to ruin your life. In fact, if you respond in a smart way, you can learn from the mistake and often turn a negative into a positive.
If you ask Jay who is his favorite screwup story, he’d tell you it’s Bill Clinton. He thinks the man made a historic ass of himself. But in the spirit of “How to Screw Up,” Bill Clinton has been a master. Look at how during his challenges, he continually shifted the focus to the future and moved on. Today, Bill Clinton has newfound respect as he puts his exceptional intellect and statesmanship to work helping to solve some of the world’s most significant issues. If you ask Jay who and what inspired his thinking on screwing up, he’d tell you in a New York minute, Aristotle. Jay is an expert on all things surrounding his rhetoric and logic.
First, Aristotle said that the most important tool of persuasion—even more important than logic—is “ethos,” which has to do with getting an audience to like and trust you. The ideal ethos, or projected image of yourself, displays craft (authority with the subject at hand, and an ability to apply that knowledge to specific situations); caring (whether you’re interested only in your audience’s benefit), and cause (whether you stand for something larger than yourself). In a screwup, you need to present a workable plan to show your craft. Emphasize that you’re putting all hands on deck, doing whatever it takes, staying up all night to fix the problem. That’s the caring part. As for cause? Point out that you have high standards and that you plan to live up to them.
Second tool: tense. Aristotle said that there are three types of persuasion, each having to do with a different tense. The past is about crime and punishment, about screwups that happened—where else?—in the past. The present has to do with values, with right and wrong, who’s good and who’s bad. Then there’s the future, where you talk about the expected outcomes of decisions and choices. Want to get someone to make a decision? Focus on the future.
Jay got all that from Aristotle—who, by the way, tutored a young lad named Alexander. Little Alexander took these same tools of persuasion, created a volunteer army, and conquered the known world. He earned himself the title Alexander the Great. If it worked for him, it’s likely that it’ll work for your screwups.
A couple years ago, Bank of America outsourced 100 tech-support jobs to India—and told the fired workers they had to train their replacements in order to get severance checks. The bank got well-deserved terrible publicity for this. How should the managers have handled the screwup? First, they should have recognized their mistake and reported it to the press as quickly as possible, explaining the outsourcing and giving the fired workers their checks immediately. Second, they should have shifted the focus to the future, promising improved efficiency and better service to customers. And while the workers themselves deserved an apology, it should have been done in private. A public apology only makes a company look smaller. Fix the problem and focus on a better future.
Here are the rules:
1. Be first with the news if you can.
You get much better control of the matter if the bad news comes straight from you. Plus, right after delivering the news, you can show that you…
2. Have a plan.
People get over the shock of your screwup pretty quickly if you show you have a way to fix it. But don’t wait to give the plan. You need to present it immediately after giving the news. Why? Because that way you…
3. Shift to the future.
Focus on what happens next. That’s what Clinton did.
4. Don’t apologize.
This is the most controversial advice I give. Apologies come with several problems. First, they focus on the past, on the screwup, reminding people of what you did. Second, apologies rarely satisfy people. They almost always seem inadequate. That’s because apologies are “self-belittling”—they shrink you down to the size of the victim or smaller. People often demand an apology more as vengeance than as any way to improve matters. Instead, you need to be in a position of strength so that you can solve the problem and get past the screwup.
—Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.
[Image: Flickr user Thorbjorn Sigberg]
“Three gods A, B, and C are called, in some order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language in which the words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are ‘da’ and ‘ja’, in some order. You do not know which word means which.”
Reality: How can we know it exists? By Mike Holderness
Proving whether or not reality is an illusion is surprisingly difficult
PHILOSOPHERS are not being rude when they describe the approach most of us take as naive realism. After all, when they cross the street on the way to work, they tend to accept implicitly - as we all do - that there is an external reality that exists independently of our observations of it. But at work, they have to ask: if there is, how can we know?
In other words, the question “what exists?” reduces, for what in philosophy passes for practical purposes, to questions such as “what do we mean by ‘know’?”
Plato had a go at it 2400 years ago, defining “knowledge” as “justified true belief”. But testing the justification or the truth of beliefs traces back to our perceptions, and we know these can deceive us.
Two millennia later, René Descartes decided to work out what he was sure he knew. Legend has it that he climbed into a large stove to do so in warmth and solitude. He emerged declaring that the only thing he knew was that there was something that was doubting everything.
The logical conclusion of Descartes’s doubt is solipsism, the conviction that one’s own consciousness is all there is. It’s an idea that is difficult to refute.
Samuel Johnson’s notoriously bluff riposte to the questioning of the reality of objects - “I refute it thus!”, kicking a stone - holds no philosophical water. As Descartes pointed out a century earlier, it is impossible to know we are not dreaming.
Nor has anyone had much luck making sense of dualism - the idea that mind and matter are distinct. One response is that there is only matter, making the mind an illusion that arises from neurons doing their thing. The opposite position is “panpsychism”, which attributes mental properties to all matter. As the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington expressed it in 1928: “the stuff of the world is mind-stuff… not altogether foreign to the feelings in our consciousness”.
Quite separately, rigorous logicians such as Harvard’s Willard Van Orman Quine abandoned the search for a foundation of reality and took “coherentist” positions. Let go of the notion of a pyramid of knowledge, they argued: think instead of a raft built out of our beliefs, a seaweedy web of statements about perceptions and statements about statements, not “grounded” in anything but hanging together and solid enough to set sail upon. Or even, possibly, to be a universe.
This idea is circular, and it’s cheating, say critics of a more foundationist bent. It leads back to the suspicion that there actually is no reality independent of our observations. But if there is - how can we know?
Mike Holderness is a writer based in London
Mensa is an organization whose members have an IQ of 140 or higher. A few years ago, there was a Mensa Convention in San Francisco and several members lunched at a local cafe.
While dining, they discovered that their salt shaker contained pepper and their pepper shaker was full of salt. How could they swap the contents of the bottles without spilling and using only the implements at hand? Clearly, this was a job for Mensa!
The group debated and presented ideas and finally came up with a brilliant solution involving a napkin, a straw and an empty saucer. They called the waitress over to dazzle her with their solution.
“Ma’am,” they said, “we couldn’t help but notice that the pepper shaker contains salt and the salt shaker…”
“Oh,” the waitress interrupted. “Sorry about that.” and she unscrewed the caps of both bottles and switched them.
Op-ed: Israel should use Gaza’s language, which is different than language of Western logic
After we left Gaza, the Strip was supposed to put away its rockets and utilize its resources for the benefit of its citizens. However, Gaza “unexpectedly” decided to crown Hamas, reinforce the operations of its rocket factories and boost the arms smuggling traffic through its tunnels. All this was done in order to keep the mega-terrorist campaign against Israel alive, of course, even at the price of embittering the lives of Gaza residents.
Seemingly, the Palestinians – and Gaza residents in particular – are fully utilizing a deeply distorted cost-benefit pattern; however, this distortion is mostly seen perceived by the West and by quite a few Israelis, who always refused to understand the considerations and preferences that prevail in the region.
What Israelis and Westerns see as an “intolerable loss” is viewed by many Palestinians as a certainly tolerable sacrifice given their supreme purpose: Removing the Zionist entity from “the place it doesn’t belong in.”
The utilitarian language of Western logic is not the language of Gaza and the West’s loss and profit terms are not Gaza’s terms. Indeed, “Allah’s decrees” have been etched into Gaza residents’ consciousness to a much deeper degree than Israel’s threats, measured responses and the temptations of modern life. Hence, it’s hard not to view Israel’s current restraint as contemptuous to southern residents.
The damage equation formulated by Israel in Operation Cast Lead was etched into the Islamic minds of senior Hamas leaders in Gaza, who realized that their own heads are also in danger and that they better think in cost-benefit terms. This was immeasurably more efficient that the various Israeli threats issued on the eve of the disengagement lest Gazans dare fire at us after we leave the Strip; threats that left no impression on Jihad and Hamas members.
Israel’s weak leadership
The same is true for the gravest terror offensive ever faced by Israel, during the second Intifada, which evaporated almost entirely in Judea and Samaria only in the wake of Operation Defensive Shield and targeted assassinations.
Back then, on the eve of the operation, we kept hearing the ironclad rule of the local leftist oligarchy, whereby “terrorism cannot be defeated.” Upon the introduction of the assassination policy, we were forced to hear Israel’s finest commentators and opposition leaders repeating the “11th commandment” – “If we hurt terror leaders, a mega-attack is merely a matter of time.”
We heard this especially after honorable Islamists Ahmad Yassin and Abdul Aziz Rantisi received a permanent subscription for 72 virgins in heaven. Following the Yassin assassination, Shimon Peres asserted that we just opened a terrible front in a religious war versus Islam.
Even though, amazingly, Salah al-Din has not yet been spotted in Jerusalem’s gates and Islam has not yet embarked on an all-out war on Israel en masse, it appears that the weak Peres spirit again prevails among our leaders. Indeed, ever since Operation Cast Lead, they have done amazing work of “containment.”
Once Gazans realize – almost daily, and not via an operation launched every few years – that terrorism can only be left behind by death, and once Israelis realize that in the foreseeable future we shall live on our sword, and must grip it tightly at all times, we will see fewer eulogizes around here, and the lives of our southern residents will be little more bearable.
“Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” (University of South Carolina, Columbia)
“Arguing With Judge Judy: Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows”
(University of California, Berkeley)
“The Phallus” (Occidental College)
“Zombies: The living dead in Literature, Film and Culture” (University of Baltimore)
“Comics” (Oregon State University)
“Philosophy and Star Trek” (Georgetown University)
Say What Now of the Day: A Jewish York University professor came under fire recently for an anti-Semitic statement he made in class.
The hell you say? Listen up: A 22-year-old senior named Sarah Grunfeld complained to local Jewish groups that Professor Cameron Johnston had the audacity to exclaim “all Jews should be sterilized” in his “Self, Culture and Society” class.
Except that, had Grunfeld not tuned Johnston out before leaving the classroom in a huff, she might have heard him say “‘All Jews should be sterilized’…would be an example of an unacceptable and dangerous opinion.”
Luckily, Johnston managed to talk the Jewish community down from their calls to have him fired. The incident was “a very unfortunate misunderstanding,” said Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs rep. Sheldon Goodman.
Grunfeld, however, is not backing down from her claim that Johnston is an anti-Semitic Jew: “The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth,” she told the Toronto Star, “so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”
Listening comprehension and logic skills courses should be mandatory at York University.
The fuzziness and weird logic of the way particles behave applies surprisingly well to how humans think
THE quantum world defies the rules of ordinary logic. Particles routinely occupy two or more places at the same time and don’t even have well-defined properties until they are measured. It’s all strange, yet true - quantum theory is the most accurate scientific theory ever tested and its mathematics is perfectly suited to the weirdness of the atomic world.
Yet that mathematics actually stands on its own, quite independent of the theory. Indeed, much of it was invented well before quantum theory even existed, notably by German mathematician David Hilbert. Now, it’s beginning to look as if it might apply to a lot more than just quantum physics, and quite possibly even to the way people think.
Human thinking, as many of us know, often fails to respect the principles of classical logic. We make systematic errors when reasoning with probabilities, for example. Physicist Diederik Aerts of the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, has shown that these errors actually make sense within a wider logic based on quantum mathematics. The same logic also seems to fit naturally with how people link concepts together, often on the basis of loose associations and blurred boundaries. That means search algorithms based on quantum logic could uncover meanings in masses of text more efficiently than classical algorithms.
It may sound preposterous to imagine that the mathematics of quantum theory has something to say about the nature of human thinking. This is not to say there is anything quantum going on in the brain, only that “quantum” mathematics really isn’t owned by physics at all, and turns out to be better than classical mathematics in capturing the fuzzy and flexible ways that humans use ideas. “People often follow a different way of thinking than the one dictated by classical logic,” says Aerts. “The mathematics of quantum theory turns out to describe this quite well.”
Something about jews who are zionists and support the state of Israel are annoying me, because as you see, rabbis like those on the picture clearly do not support Israel or zionism, and these people have probably studied judaism for several years, and they know it far better than some newbie convert jew.
So how come that these people want the palestinians to get their land back, when the zionist want to take more and more of it? Don’t they know better than you about judaism and it’s teachings? “Jewish teaching was always opposed to zionism”, how can you be a zionist jew when it’s opposing your beliefs? Aren’t you contradicting yourself or is it just me?
These Rabbis are probably all of the Ultra Extremist Jewish Orthodox minority group Neturei Karta (נתורי קרתא). Neturei Karta comprise around 1500 families world-wide, while the whole Jewish population is about 13.5 million people.
So, according to your reasoning it must be that the few Rabbis of these 1500 families are right, but the numerous Rabbis of the other 13.5 million people (minus 1500 families) are all wrong.