I Walk Like An Egyptian

The Carnival of Journalism (#Jcarn) this month takes on the Big F, Failure.

There were rules about what you could write about and while not a rule abider at all times, the ones laid out by David Cohn seemed reasonable enough.

What is failure?

It is a mistake? It is a failure if you make a mistake, recognize it, take a step back and learn from it before moving on? I have had a gracious amount of material to work with there, but I don’t think those are abject and utter failures.

George Bernard Shaw: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.”

It is the learning along the way that matters. Plan and strive for success, but welcome mistakes as the most helpful teachers you will ever know.

Is failure something that didn’t work? Inventor Thomas Edison said no and was far smarter than I. His famous quote goes: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”

I don’t think I’ve hit 10,000 yet, but, Tom, I’m working on it.

If you try an idea and it flops and you recognize it, so what? Learn from that experience and try something else.

So if neither mistakes or flops are the Big F, what could possibly be failure?

I think true failure is the inability to recognize or escape from a mistake and thus keep repeating it again and again and wondering why it doesn’t work. Failure is never changing.

My failure, one I have yet to fully escape, is the tendency to “Walk Like An Egyptian” (hey, the title of a hit song in 1986 fits this post).

Who are the Egyptians? I don’t mean those throngs in the streets of Cairo chanting and shooting YouTube videos. I mean newspapers and, by extension, “newspaper people.” That would be me.

Their approach to digital from as early as the mid-1990s onward has been like, well, newspapers.

But digital environments haven’t proven to be much like the monopoly, geographically focused markets newspapers had been so successful in. Far from it.

At almost every step along the way, newspapers and their leaders, including me, made missteps based on our framework of reality as newspapers and newspaper people..

Newspapers and newspaper companies tend to watch and borrow from each other in a near-closed society.

And note I say newspaper companies, not media companies or digital information providers or some other buzzworthy phrase for those who print newspapers.. The DNA of these companies is newspapers. They really haven’t evolved very far despite the extensive and expensive plastic surgery.

Again, I count myself among those who have difficulty breaking the tendency of thinking from a vantage point that might not even be that relevant..

There are, however, some things I and you can do to not get sucked into always walking like an Egyptian.

* Borrow ideas and watch for trends outside the newspaper industry.

* Deliberately go to conferences and trade shows about topics you’re interested in that are under-represented by traditional newspaper media companies. If you’re the only person there from a newspaper company; most likely you’ll find some new ideas.

* Talk to startups and entrepreneurs; they aren’t constrained by your industry framework.

* Challenge assumptions. Easier said than done, but critically think thorough them to see if they really make sense.

* Seek inspiration in unusual places.

* Don’t accept “we’ve always done this way’ as an acceptable answer.

How am I doing? It’s a work in progress. I hope to call this a failure I’ve overcome one day.

I’m looking forward to reading the other “Fail” pieces this month.

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