Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Learning from failure

Heading off the beaten path requires accepting a higher risk of failure.  This is just a position on risk, and a bit of guts. Fronting that failure when it happens is a different kettle of fish.

You may be aware of how I uprooted myself from a safe public sector job in Melbourne, to travel interstate and chase work with TACSI in Adelaide.  You may be aware this is going a little slower than preferred.  I probably won't have told you that my approach has failed.

I have been an Adelaide resident for around a month now.  While there has been enthusiasm and appreciation expressed for my dedication, at last notice I was still a month away from having anything meaningful to do - within TACSI at least.  In fact, I can't see anything meaningless.  Being an 'aspiring volunteer' is pretty shitty, especially with questionable certainty around timelines.  I've never tried to get inside somewhere from out in the cold before, so this is all very new, and I don't (yet) know what I'm doing.

I haven't exactly been wallowing.  I've been pretty busy getting familiar with my new city and creating a new life.  I have been making connections - locally and nationally - and dedicating time to learning, and developing my own ideas.  But all this stuff should be secondary.  Not because it is unimportant, but because it is simply 'off the critical path', in project management terms.  It can wait!

So things have been slow, they haven't gone to plan.  But on reflection, I'm not at a bad starting point.  I now have more useful connections, a life a little more settled so I can concentrate, a better sense of how things work at TACSI, and of my own direction and the value I can bring.  It has taken a few days but I've realised that 'failure' might mean going AWOL from the plan, but as long as I can reset my path along a new plan things won't be too bad after all.  And I'm learning about how (not) to rock up somewhere and offer to get involved.

So I have a new approach to try, a slightly new tack.  It's nothing fancy - just being proactive, and going out on a limb in terms of identifying ways that I can be of value.  'Selling myself' (for free!). The idea is basically to offer to be a 'resident [way of thinking]', lining up a general area of need for TACSI with my own skills.  Something like strategist, conceiver, analyst... one of the things I have proven I can do quite well in all sorts of contexts, but don't really know how to describe as a skill.

I don't know whether it will work - I know it won't go as intended.  But I'm much more positive about how I'll be able to learn from this, no matter how it goes.  It will be difficult, but I have a feeling it will be fun.  I'll let you know!



  1. Brave post.

    Wondering about how wise it is to focus on one organisation. A month of trying to penetrate an org is a reasonable amount of time so I suspect it's just not the right time for TACSI & it's time to move on - keep the door open - but keep your journey going.

    Have you made a list of all the orgs that inspire you & that make your heart and mind sing? Ones that seem to match your desires? Why don't you approach some of them - using your newly formulated approach of having an idea of how you could structure your time of volunteering with them. Seems to me, if you widen the field, you'll have a much better chance of success.

    Strike while the failure is searing - use the energy of it to move forward and turn it round. You don't need to be anchored to a particular place - in fact probably better you're not if you're going to be true to your aspirations.

    After all, a true adventurer doesn't wait around...and some time with other organisations might even make you more appealing to TACSI in the future.


  2. Thanks SP!

    Talk about a comment to get the thoughts going.

    I do have a 'little black book' of sorts, but it's much easier to be crossed off than put on. I haven't identified anywhere else in Adelaide that fits the bill, not yet.

    I do like it here, and there are a few things on the go that I would like to follow through at least a little further. But no, I'm not tied to Adelaide either...

    One of the things that surprised me in Melbourne was people telling me they're jealous I got the chance to work with TACSI. I even explained that I'm not! But I think that was a good sign it's worth riding it out a little longer.

    I am keeping in touch with developments interstate, and I won't be turning down anything that does fit the bill. For now though I'll stick it out.

    Thanks for posting! It's good to know that moving on wouldn't be such a crazy idea. You're right that I can't afford to be narrow minded. Pinch me if I post the same thing in another months' time, okay?

  3. ...pinch?
    It's a months' time...are you going to post an update?
    : )

    1. Thanks for the prompt.

      Things have changed tack a dozen times in the last month... I'm doing some minor work volunteering with TACSI at the moment, but am not chasing them for further volunteer work. Very busy with different local Adelaide projects - contributing to communities of collaborative innovation.

      I didn't get a response from the revised strategy I mentioned above either. But that's not so bad. I 'got my foot in the door' by approaching them from a different angle. I had something specific I wanted to know about and engage them on. I brought things I was doing on the outside, and connected with them on those instead.

      The moral I took from that story is that trying to start a discussion with people about what you might do for them is just not compelling. But it does work to have something concrete that you are going to do, and seek to connect on how they can be involved.