Sgt. Chris Columbus: Failure Re-framed

Imagine if Christopher Columbus had been a police sergeant. Upon his return to the station he submits his report. The boss summons him.
“Do you mind telling me what this is all about?”
Sgt. Columbus, his eyes lighting up says,”My report. I found this new place. Hispaniola. I think it could be a huge opportunity for us.”
“Yeah. Opportunity. That’s one way to describe it. Who told you to find–what the hell did you call it?”
“Hispaniola, sir. I–”
“What was your assignment, Chris? Why did I give you the personnel, all those vehicles and equipment and the budget?”
“Find a faster trade route to the east.”
“And what did you find?”
“Well, sir, as you can see in my report I —
“Didn’t find the goddamned trade route. Right?
“Well, yes, that’s correct but I found this place no one knew about that could be –”
“A huge headache for me when I tell the captain and the Chief the guy I picked for the trade route operation didn’t find it. That’s all I have, sergeant.”

The only harmful failure in most situations is the failure to see the valuable lessons and often the beneficial unintended outcomes that come from pushing in the right direction. Louis Pasteur once said, “chance favors the prepared mind.” Too often the stress induces us to get caught up in our own egos and paradigms and to fail to see the potential opportunity we have created.

The solution is getting in the habit of learning. All the learning comes from asking the right questions: what did we learn today, last night, this past week? How can we incorporate the learning into more effective practice?

The history of scientific breakthroughs is full of illustrations of Pasteur’s insight. As just one example, we present the pacemaker.

That pacemaker sewn into a loved one’s chest actually came about because American engineer Wilson Greatbatch reached into a box and pulled out the wrong thing.

Greatbatch was working on making a circuit to help record fast heart sounds. He reached into a box for a resistor in order to finish the circuit and pulled out a 1-megaohm resistor instead of a 10,000-ohm one.

The circuit pulsed for 1.8 milliseconds and then stopped for one second. Then it repeated. The sound was as old as man: a perfect heartbeat.
Posted Yesterday by Jim Jordan


About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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