Issue 91

“Achievement is an act of the will.”
Gene Griessman, Ph.D. Editor


“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

—Upton Sinclair (American Author; 1878-1968)

Routines and Ruts
“Humans are creatures of routine and will find any reason to go on automatic pilot.”

Naked playwriting, by William Missouri Downs and Robin U. Russin

“You won’t find freedom or a very good view if you’re in a rut.”

—Gene Griessman

The Art of Failing

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

—Samuel Beckett   (Irish poet, novelist, and playwright;1906-1989)

Actions Speak

“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”

–John Locke  (English philosopher; 1632-1704)

It’s Not Easy

“The great plays come down to us from men who had unlimited patience for work.”

—Lajos Egri  (Hungarian-born American Playwright and author; 1888-1967)

Taking Responsibility

“Everybody’s business is nobody’s business.”


Government of the People
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither
external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

—the Federalist Papers #51

Justice for All
“I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

—Clara Barton (American teacher and nurse; founder of the American Red Cross; 1921-1912)

The Power of Ignorance
“Few things are more frightening than ignorance in frenzy.”

—Gene Griessman


In baseball, if you hit 2 times out of 10, you’re in a slump, and if you don’t improve, you’re headed for the bench.  But if you hit 3 times out of 10, and do it long enough, you’re headed for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Just 30 players in all major league history have batted .330 for their careers—3 hits out of 10.

The difference between the bench and the Hall of Fame is 1 hit out of 10.


“A single failure is a source of knowledge we might not have gained in any other way… The best way of achieving lasting success is by more fully understanding failure.” —Henry Petroski (American professor of civil engineering and of history, Duke University; born 1942)

Failure is no fun. Most failures are embarrassing, costly, or deadly. When buildings collapse, planes crash, or machines explode, we are shocked. We grieve.  We may point fingers.  But do we learn?

Failure CAN lead to success, big success, lasting success.

You may not learn anything profound from a failure–it’s better if you do–but just getting through failure, and moving on may toughen you up.

I can’t think of any profound lessons that Lincoln told us he learned from his failures. There were some small ones, such as learning to be more careful about extemporaneous remarks after becoming president.  But there is no doubt that his failures throughout his career helped prepare him for the incredible stress he endured during the Civil War.

Another example.  Thomas Edison achieved fame using the trial-and-error approach. Error in Edison’s equation equaled failure. Tons and tons of failures before he developed a light bulb with a carbon filament in a vacuum that burned for 40 hours.

Some engineers deliberately court failures. They create failures in order to study them.

The lead quote of this article comes from a review of Henry Petroski’s new book To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure, reviewed by Bill McKibben in the June 20, 2013 issue of the New York Review of Books.

Petroski tells the story of a mammoth “failure machine” that was used by engineers at the University of Illinois when he was a student. It was a monster of a testing device that put tons of pressure on metal or stone or any other material until it broke.  The idea was to create failure in order to understand how to prevent it.

Lately I’ve been reading about elite athletic coaches for a new book I’m writing, and have been struck by how great coaches deal with failure.

Take Nick Saban, the University of Alabama’s national championship football coach.  Saban systematically studies failure, and has created a system to deal with it.

Here are Saban’s words on the subject, taken from his fine book “How Good Do You Want to Be?”:

“Win or lose, our coaches spend time on Sundays grading the game film from the day before. They watch every play multiple times and assign grades or points to each player on each play….If we have an unsuccessful play, we identify the missed execution or mental error so each player can fully understand that if he executes his assignment with the proper technique, that we can be successful….”

“On Mondays players come into the meeting rooms at 6:45 AM to go over the past game. Their position coaches show them the good and bad, point out how to correct the mistakes, and give an overall grade for the game. Then Monday afternoons, the first 10 to 15 minutes of practice is the ‘correction period.’ The coaches walk players through mistakes they made in positioning, formations, routes, and so forth, in the game. The time is used to correct the mental errors and the physical ones that involve technique and fundamentals….”

“By reviewing the game on Sunday as a staff and on Monday mornings with the players, we put the game behind us…”

“During games it is much harder to correct mistakes, but still possible. During offensive series, the defensive coaches will often spend time with their position players back on the bench making corrections and adjustments. The offensive coaches do the same when the defense is on the field.”

“Correcting mistakes when you’re in competition…is not ideal, but make sure you don’t go too long without rectifying mistakes.”

Whether you’re a football coach or an engineer, a scientist or a salesman, do not indulge in denial.  Do not try to sweep failure under the rug.  Study your failures.  Figure out why you failed.  Make adjustments if you need to.  And then move on, hopefully wiser, maybe tougher.

It was an interview between a journalist for the Albany (NY) Times Union and the host of a regional radio show. Both men were skillful, well informed, and articulate.

The interviewer asked about a fund-raiser sponsored by a multi-million dollar corporation that his guest and a number of other journalists had participated in. The interviewer wanted to know if journalists had compromised their objectivity by participating. Would they be able to report objectively about the corporation if they became too friendly.

The journalist replied, “I understand the argument.”

That was a very effective way to begin. It did not sound evasive.  He did not respond in detail to the argument itself.  Doing that would have used up a lot of time, and probably would have sounded overly defensive. Instead by deftly acknowledging the objection—“I know the argument”—and not attempting to refute it point-by-point. he got the time to present his own views.

Next time somebody criticizes a position you’ve taken, one good way to begin your reply is to say, “I understand that argument.”  Then continue by saying something like, “Could I tell you my point of view?”

Here are four recommendations for writing essays, articles, or blogs.

One.  Make brief notes about possible ideas to develop.  Even if you are out and about, you can send yourself an email or text with the basic idea Or you can give yourself a call and leave the idea on voice mail.  Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Just get the idea saved.

Two. When you do sit down to write, just start writing.  You can pick any one of the ideas you’ve jotted down or recorded.   Again, don’t worry about how your words sound at this point.  Just get them written and saved.  You may eventually throw away what you wrote.  But what you are doing is getting your writing motor started.

Three.  If possible write in the same place.  Forming a habit about writing in a particular place will send a signal to your brain that you are supposed to be writing.  I’ve found that if I do this, sometimes as if by magic the words will begin to come to me.

Four.  When you’ve completed a rough draft of a module or the entire piece, read it out loud.  Reading aloud will help you catch grammatical and logical errors, and make your expression more natural.

Adapted from an article on the website


“Great food for thought for our team.”
—Brent McLean, Chief Executive Officer, McLean & Partners, Calgary

“These quotations (in the last TAD) are remarkable!  Thanks for sharing.”
—Mitchell B Jacoby, Senior Vice President, The Jacoby Group, Atlanta