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The Failure We Share

I was recently facilitating a conversation on the topic of 'failure' at a CUE Rockstar Camp for Admins in California. During part of our time together, each school leader in the audience selected from a variety of pre-printed photographs. Humorous photos. Dog photos. Photos that elicited conversation.

A principal in this particular session selected one of my all-time favorites. The picture she chose showed 5-6 kayakers rowing one way, while a single kayaker was presumably rowing in the wrong direction. I posed this question to the group, "What if the failure found in this picture is actually the group of kayakers going the wrong direction?"

We talked about failure a little longer as a group, and then the principal who originally selected the kayak picture made an astute observation. I have always assumed each of the kayaks contained only one rower, but she noticed that one of the kayaks contained two people. I've stared at that picture dozens of times. I've even blogged about it before HERE. But, right then and there I was reminded of a simple truth.

What we look for in life we often find.

I had assumed that each boat had one person inside so that's what I saw. What's even more alarming is that we all share a propensity to "find what we're looking for." We need to be very careful that we are not filling in the blanks of other people's lives.

So in one fell swoop this principal uncovered a hidden failure we all share.


It's the worst of all the four letter words. It is the lens we see the world through. It fills in the blanks when we don't have all the information. Bias can be grossly overt or covertly implicit. Whatever the case may be, it alters our perception of reality. But it doesn't have to.

This list is not exhaustive, but it provides some ideas about flushing out bias.

  • Be a learner, not a knower.

  • Dialogue with different people; we all have blind spots (just like I did with the photo).

  • Seek to understand others' stories.

  • Look at familiar situations from different perspectives.

  • Be willing to be uncomfortable.

  • Be willing to be wrong.

  • Be open to changing your mind.

  • Listen more.



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