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Double Black Diamond- Go Big or Stay Home.

Joe Tate | HR Consulting
Mar 09 2018

On the mountain this is the area of high risk, high reward.  Your responsibility is to drive your team to the next level.  The world comes faster in the expert-only zone.  The mountain has no problem pushing you down the steps. Here, gravity is king and crashes are bigger.  You will not forget crashing on the double blacks, but you must push ahead. On the mountain the most memorable crashes involve gear slung across the mountain.  A hat here, goggles there, skis, poles, a glove?  Nothing is more memorable than a genuine ‘Yard Sale’. I share this with my students.  I speak of my own epic crashes when I teach.  We are a team.  We support each other.  We admire achievement and we CELEBRATE failure!  In fact, we have been celebrating failure since we were toddlers.

When learning to walk our parents let us steady the way by holding our hands or by letting us tightly hold their fingers.  We faced our fears and ventured into the unknown.  One step, two steps— CRASH, failure.  And then it came the celebration.  We looked instinctively into the eyes of our parents.  What happened?  We looked for fear in their eyes; we found none.  We saw smiles, we heard cheering, clapping and celebration. “Two steps!”, they exclaimed.  “You are amazing, little one!”  It was scary and falling may have hurt a bit, but this celebration, this was a game changer.  We got right back up with our help from our parents, we stood again and the frightening process of walking on two legs was attempted again.  Our earliest memories are scattered with this brilliant approach to adversity.

While the art of celebrating failure is common in parent/child relationship, it is exceptionally rare in the workplace. It can be found and it should be championed. Employees, customers and management must embrace unintended failure. To be clear, the mistakes I’m talking about don’t involve sending out reports filled with errors, I’m talking about taking a chance on a new idea, a marketing plan or product innovation that has the risk of failure.  I was eating in a restaurant recently.  As guests quietly discussed the day over their meals, a giant CRASH erupted near the kitchen door.  Dinnerware shattered, glasses burst into a thousand pieces and a steaming chicken dinner slid across the terra cotta floor.  A server had dropped a full tray of meals.  Perfect silence reigned for one full second— followed by cheering!!!??? What??? Every other server and employee (yes, even the manager) in the restaurant stopped what they were doing, directed full attention to the impact zone.  They were all in on it and they erupted in cheers, applause and shouts!  Tension turned to humor, and shocked expressions turned to smiles.  Yes, you can celebrate failure and you have the opportunity to let your customers in on it!

When was the last time as a leader you said, ‘We haven’t been making enough mistakes around here!”.  Think about it.  A simple comment like this can open minds to push the envelope.

Here is a more recent example.  Tony Hsieh of Zappos is legendary in his approach to employee centricity focused on customer delight.  Recently a member of his team made a programming error on the website.  In this highly publicized FAIL, the employee inadvertently limited all orders to a maximum of $49.95 for a 24-hour period. Unfortunately for the company, nearly every order that day exceeded $50.  The result; a horrifying $1.6 million failure on the part of one employee.  Here is the written response from Tony, the head of the company following the fast-spreading internal rumor of the error.  Employees thought surely that heads would roll and that the responsible employee would be fired.  He said:

From Tony,

To those of you asking if anybody was fired, the answer is no, nobody was fired – this was a learning experience for all of us. Even though our terms and conditions state that we do not need to fulfill orders that are placed due to pricing mistakes, and even though this mistake cost us over $1.6 million, we felt that the right thing to do for our customers was to eat the loss and fulfill all the orders that had been placed before we discovered the problem.

PS: To put an end to any further speculation about my tweet, I will also confirm that I did not, in fact, eat any ice cream on Sunday night.

This is not an example of a leader been soft, or wishy-washy.  This is leadership and this is greatness.  Note the focus on the customer, the commitment to do the right thing in the face of loss. When I learned of this story I was not a Zappos customer.  I am now.  And did you know they sell eyewear, outdoor clothing, watches and wedding dresses?  Now you do.

The perfect example of a top business leader building a team in the double-diamond territory.

The double-diamond zone is where ‘world-class’ happens.  It is where flight is taken and legends are made!  Are you at the top of your game, but you are still on the intermediate slopes?  Take a chance, push yourself and take it to the next level.  This is where the magic happens.  This is where turning becomes flight.  I suggest three things as you enter the double-diamond zone.  1. Hone your craft.  Spend the time to maintain and improve your skills.  2. Teach. Nothing will improve your skills more than teaching and sharing your skills with others.  3. Common threads.  Bond with like-minded people who are already familiar with the thin air.

It is risky, it is exhilarating, it is life-changing for you and your team.

Phillip Carlyle:  “You’re risking everything you’ve built!”

P.T. Barnum:  “Well, how do you think I built it?”

Make it a great week and I hope to see you on the mountain.  The storms are finally lining up and that amazing Utah powder snow is beckoning.



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