The Price Of Failure

One of my long-standing pet peeves with the field is its willful evasion of examining failure. There’s too much paranoia over controlling narratives and fear of negative donor reaction that we not only miss out on learning from failures, but we begin to spin them as success. Worse still, there are plenty of examples where such action is rewarded.

What I wouldn’t give to lead a sincere panel discussion where executives talk openly about their failures. What they learned, why things went wrong, and how what they thought would be career-killers actually made them better.

I’ve pitched the idea for decades and while it has never gained traction, I’m an optimist and hope to see it become standard practice before I retire.

In the meantime, we’ll need to be content with taking what we can get. To that end, Holly Mulcahy published a post at Neo Classical where she puts it all out for everyone to see in an article titled My Bio: The Fabulous Failures Edition.

Occasionally I have shared some of my own failures or misadventures in my career. So now I have taken the extra step and rewritten my bio with only my failures. Not all of them, but a good amount of failures I thought were the lowest points of my life at each of those moments. It’s a great exercise in empathy and self-worth. It’s also a great reminder that in order to succeed, there must be some very big failures and roadblocks.

My Bio: The Fabulous Failures Edition

Holly invites readers to share in the exercise and I may end up doing exactly that later in the week. How about you; what would your failure bio look like?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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