Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fear of failure and living abundantly

Recently, I spent three weeks living in the Hale Koa hotel in Waikiki, which is part of the Armed Forces recreation network of facilities. These facilities operate without direct support from tax dollars and offer reasonably affordable recreational programs and facilities to military personnel, their families, and, if they have extra capacity, to retirees. The Hale Koa has greatly expanded since I first stayed there in 1981 (a stay that lasted a significant 40 days and nights, if one is into biblical numerology, while I looked for housing at the beginning of my first Hawaiian assignment).

In addition to the expansion, and some obvious fraying around the edges from heavy use over the decades, the security changes, probably initiated post 9/11, caught my attention. The Department of Defense funds security at the Hale Koa. Armed military police, wearing body armor, now patrol the 72-acre site. Yet the site lacks any fence, wall, or other perimeter barrier. The beach, extensive lawns, and at least one of the bars is open to the public. Additionally, people driving to the main porte cochère must stop at a sentry post. The sentry, an armed military policeman, requires the driver to show a valid driver's license; Fort DeRussy is open to the public.

The patrols and sentry may provide Hale Koa patrons with an illusion of security. These measures, however, would not stop anyone who is intent on engaging in criminal behavior. Unsurprisingly, no other Waikiki hotel has a sentry or similarly armed personnel patrolling their facilities.

Similarly, when I visited Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, I was surprised to find that the security at one gate included concrete barriers, a watchtower, and other measures while at another gate security consisted of a chain link fence barring incoming traffic but allowing outgoing traffic to exit unmonitored.

I collected all of this information through casual observation. Only days later did I begin to ponder the utility of these security measures. Successful for-profit businesses generally evaluate the cost-effectiveness of their operations. On the other hand, almost every government official and politician whom I met during my Navy service feared the adverse consequences of failing to take every feasible measure to prevent bad things from happening.

For example, the federal government aims to have no fraudulent, wasteful, or abusive expenditures. That is a commendable goal. Ironically, the federal bureaucracy, driven by elected officials responding to perceived political pressures, wastes millions of dollars in pursuing the impossible goal of avoiding all fraud, waste, and abuse. Policies and programs must prevent all fraud, waste, and abuse regardless if the costs of preventative measures exceed potential savings. Conversely, for-profit enterprises implement steps to stop theft, fraud, etc., only when those steps are cost-effective.

In short, a fear of failure shapes the choices at work of most military leaders, an even higher percentage of government civilian workers, and virtually all politicians. The result is a culture of mediocrity. Identifiable failure or sub-par performance – rather than producing excellent results – is the primary determinant of an individual's future career prospects. Unlike avoiding failure, achieving excellence requires that people take risks, experiment with new approaches, choose how well to perform each task, and identify what failure rate is acceptable.

In what ways does fear of failing limit your pursuit of excellence, your choice of goals, and your ability to live abundantly?

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