Success & Failure Choices
Straightforward Success Fundamental Failure
Serendipitous Success Freaky Failure
Spectacular Success Full-Blown Failure
Spotlighting Standout Success Finding Fault Failure
Learn from the real world examples below. Choosing success for others sparks success for you and choosing failure for others flares failure for you. Other people will try to force failure on you at times, but you can fight failure by sparking success. So choose success for others to spark success for yourself.
For more examples of each success and failure see:
Having your physical, mental, and emotional needs
in a particular situation satisfied,
setting you up to succeed through your own efforts
Adequate food, water, shelter, safety, love, health care, education, skills, respect, acceptance, and anything else needed to achieve satisfying accomplishments within a particular situation
Parents, medical professionals, teachers, politicians, and anyone else who satisfies needs in a particular situation
Parents loving their children, feeding them, providing them with health care, acknowledging their feelings, encouraging their efforts, and celebrating their achievements
Medical professionals keeping patients healthy
Teachers, mentors, and coaches helping individuals develop skills for success
Employers providing whatever their employees need to be successful on the job
Politicians recognizing that all citizens have an equal right to the satisfaction of their physical, mental, and emotional needs
Achieving your goals through your own efforts
A positive identity within the scene of action
People who give you identities that open doors to your participation within the scene of action
In 1930, white Georgia-born surgeon Dr. Alfred Blalock hired black teenage carpenter’s assistant Vivien Thomas to be a surgical research technician. (Vivien Thomas was male.) Because Dr. Blalock opened a door to Thomas by giving him a positive identity as a surgical research technician, Thomas was able to succeed through his own efforts.
Colleges giving student identities to applicants who then earn degrees through their own efforts
Employers giving employee identities to applicants who then earn a living through their own efforts
Coaches giving team member identities to athletic hopefuls who then play on the team
Voters giving political identities to candidates who then earn a living as politicians through their own efforts
Recognition of your positive identity within the scene of action
People who recognize your positive identity and right to participate within the scene of action
Parents who treat all of their children as valuable members of the family
Teachers recognizing all students by demonstrating the same expectations for success through individual efforts
Employers paying, promoting, and listening to all employees on the basis of competence rather than appearance (age, gender, race, etc.) or status (economic status, educational status, political status, professional status, etc.)
Coaches building teams where each athlete depends on all of the other athletes
Voters recognizing the value in different political perspectives
Being in the right place at the right time to just by chance
benefit from someone else’s success
If choice is possible, anyone
Heart Patients and Victims of Shock
Cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig, a colleague of surgeon Alfred Blalock, developed a concept for a surgical procedure to save babies with “blue baby syndrome” (Tetralogy of Fallot). Vivien Thomas, the black carpenter’s assistant Blalock had hired when he was still a teenager, developed both the surgical procedures and surgical instruments for heart surgery.
After developing the surgical procedure, Thomas taught it to Blalock. Blalock performed the first blue baby surgery on November 29, 1944. For the first dozens of operations, Blalock insisted that Thomas stand behind his right shoulder on a stool in the operating room so Thomas could coach him through each step and be there to answer questions.
When the news of the operation became public, patients and doctors from around the world came to Johns Hopkins where Thomas and Blalock worked. Thomas’s surgical procedures were adapted for different types of heart surgery. Thomas went on to serve as an instructor in surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine even though he had never attended medical school himself. His students became leading heart surgeons around the country. One of his students was Denton Cooley, the first surgeon to implant a total artificial heart in a patient.
Blalock and Thomas also did research on hemorrhagic and traumatic shock. Their findings saved thousands of soldiers during World War II.
Heart patients and victims of shock around the world are in the right place at the right time to just by chance benefit from Vivien Thomas’ two straightforward successes. First, Dr. Blalock gave Vivien Thomas a positive identity as a surgical research technician. Second, Dr. Taussig recognized Thomas’ positive identity within the research lab. With his surgical research technician positive identity and continuing recognition of his positive identity, Thomas was about to develop techniques that have already saved the lives of millions of people and continue to save lives around the world.
Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery
Later published under the title:
Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock
Vivien T. Thomas
Seeing opportunities for serendipitous success in people
who are different from you because you understand that
your success is connected to their success
Government of Brazil
In 2003, the government of Brazil began making conditional cash transfers known as Bolsa Familia directly to poor families on conditions for both mothers and children. The transfers ranged from less than $100 to a little over $100 and required three conditions. Mothers must receive prenatal and postnatal care. Children must receive all vaccinations and stay in school until 17 years of age with high attendance. Poverty in Brazil decreased, education levels increased, health improved, and local economies improved because these families could buy food, clothing, shoes, and school supplies. Brazil’s domestic economy improved, in part because poor families had more money to spend. The Brazilian government was foresighted enough to know that improving the health and education of poor children would benefit the country. Brazil was one of the first countries to recover from the worldwide recession. It is part of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that have grown in wealth and influence.
“Bolsa Familia: Changing the Lives of Millions in Brazil”
The World Bank
Captain D. Michael Abrashoff
Open-minded people are willing to listen to good ideas no matter the appearance (age, gender, race, etc.) or status (economic status, educational status, political status, professional status, etc.) of the person who presents the idea. Guided missile destroyer USS Benfold was in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf war. Benfold was one of the ships inspecting all ships entering and leaving Iraq according to United Nations requirements. The process was long and detailed and slowed down by language differences. Fire Controlman Derrick Thomas suggested to the officers on the bridge that a database would speed up the tedious inspection process. All but one of the officers ignored Derrick Thomas because he was a low status junior petty officer. Only Benfold’s commander, D. Michael Abrashoff, was open-minded enough to forget about the low status rank of petty officer and ask Derrick Thomas about his idea.
Derrick Thomas pointed out that the information for half of the questions on the list never changed. With a database, half of the questions would already be answered for each inspection of each ship. Captain Abrashoff told Derrick Thomas to create the database. Thomas was right about reducing inspection time, and the commodore in charge of the operation distributed the database to every Navy ship doing inspections in the Persian Gulf. Junior petty officer Derrick Thomas had an idea that created serendipitous success for every ship entering and leaving the Persian Gulf, for every ship doing inspections, and for every officer on every ship taking part in the inspections.
It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy
Captain D. Michael Abrashoff
Dr. Alfred Blalock
When a black male teenage carpenter’s assistant applied for a job in his laboratory, white Dr. Alfred Blalock was competence-minded about whom he hired. Vivien Thomas was young and had only a high school diploma, but his manner, interest, and meticulousness convinced Blalock that Thomas had the competence to be a surgical research technician at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
Recognizing positive identities within the scene of action
Johns Hopkins University
Vivien Thomas, a black carpenter whose formal education ended with high school, developed the techniques for heart surgery in Dr. Alfred Blalock‘s research laboratory and brought worldwide attention and respect to Johns Hopkins University. In 1976, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine recognized the importance of Vivien Thomas’ participation within their medical school and awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Portraits of Dr. Blalock and Dr. Thomas hang next to each other in the Blalock Lobby of Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Captain D. Michael Abrashoff
When Michael Abrashoff took command of the guided missile destroyer USS Benfold, it was the lowest performing ship in the Navy. When Abrashoff left his command, Benfold was the highest performing ship in the Navy. Abrashoff was smart enough to recognize that every member of his crew down to its lowest status members had valuable positive identities on the ship. He respected those valuable positive identities by freeing his crew to fulfill their talents.
Listening to the other side of the story
Billionaire Ken Hendricks, founder of ABC Supply in Beloit, Wisconsin, bought several other businesses. Hendricks was smart enough to know that what the people selling a company told him was only one side of the story. Hendricks was smart enough to get the other side of the story. “Walk in the back room and talk to the warehouse guy or the forklift operator and say, ‘If you were running this business, what would you do differently?’ I guarantee if you fixed what they tell you, 95 percent of the time that would be a successful business. These guys hit it on the head all the time. But management never asks them.”
“How To Buy A Business”
December 1, 2006
Recognizing local luminaries (local residents who are talented and accomplished)
Other local residents
Portage County, Wisconsin resident George Rogers did much to improve and protect Portage County’s natural assets. He helped create the Green Circle Committee and the Portage County Land Preservation Committee. He was a member of the Plover River Alliance, the Aldo Leopold Audubon Society, and the Frank Hornberg Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Portage County organizations valued Rogers’ activities with a variety of awards.
The unforeseen success other people intentionally create for you
because you intentionally create success for them
Maintaining a “You matter” attitude more often than a “Me first” attitude
(“What matters to you matters to me.”)
Taking other people into consideration even when a “Me first” attitude is necessary
(“I’ll do that for you after I do this for me.”)
You, through your decisions to create success for other people
In the examples below, each spectacular success began with creating small successes for ordinary people. The small successes for ordinary people added up to spectacular successes for the people and groups who created the small successes.
Dr. Alfred Blalock, Dr. Vivien Thomas, and Dr. Helen Thomas
Dr. Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas saved thousands of lives in WWII with their findings on the causes and treatments for shock. Impressed with their findings, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore offered Dr. Blalock a position in surgery. Blalock informed Johns Hopkins that he would accept the position only if the hospital also created a position for Vivien Thomas, a black man. Johns Hopkins did. Another doctor at Johns Hopkins, cardiologist Helen Taussig, suggested that Blalock and Thomas develop a heart operation for children with the “blue baby” syndrome. (Note that Dr. Taussig also practiced competence-minded smart success.)
Alfred Blalock intentionally created success for Vivien Thomas by hiring him as a surgical research technician and keeping him employed as a surgical research technician. Vivien Thomas intentionally created success for Alfred Blalock by doing the surgical research Blalock needed.
Helen Taussig intentionally created success for Vivien Thomas by respecting his work. Vivien Thomas intentionally created success for Helen Taussig by developing the techniques that allowed her to successfully treat the “blue baby” syndrome.
The success these three individuals intentionally created for each other brought all of them the unforeseen success of worldwide fame, prominent positions in medical history, and the satisfaction of knowing their work would continue to save lives long after they passed on.
The success Johns Hopkins intentionally created for Vivien Thomas brought international recognition to Johns Hopkins as the institution that “opened the door to now-familiar procedures like coronary bypass surgery.” Johns Hopkins still has the original set of surgical instruments Vivien Thomas made for Dr. Blalock’s research lab.
Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign
With consumer information collected by volunteers and surveys, Barack Obama contacted supporters and would-be supporters through social websites like MySpace and Facebook. His openness on his websites about his policies encouraged his supporters into feelings of security and trust. Obama’s supporters developed a community reaching across the nation. Using a Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool, supporters contacted people in their local communities. Supporters organized social activities to help Obama’s campaign, including making signs and going door to door with petitions. They organized meetings with their neighbors to discuss the policies and issues Obama supported. They also discussed ways to improve their communities. This grassroots activism encouraged ordinary people to speak their own words and take their own actions. Because Obama’s campaign allowed his supporters to feel they were personally helping to make history, Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States.
Children’s Holocaust Memorial
Children at the Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee decided to collect 11 million paperclips to represent the 11 million people killed because of intolerance during World War II. Because the students offered a simple way to make a positive difference, people from around the world sent the students more than 30 million paperclips.
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity has built more than 600,000 homes in communities around the world to provide more than 3 million people with simple, decent, affordable housing. Habitat creates positive identities for Habitat homeowners who are then able to create serendipitous success for their communities. The international office gave local offices in the United States and national offices in other countries the freedom to operate independently. Each local U.S. office (affiliate) does its own fundraising, site selection, family selection, home construction, and mortgage servicing. Because the international office gives local affiliates and national offices the freedom of independence, the local affiliates and national offices have made Habitat for Humanity a world leader in ending poverty housing.
Martha Stewart uses her television shows to give people the knowledge, experience, skills, resources, and connections they need for creating beauty and comfort in their lives. In return, satisfied people buy Stewart’s books, magazine, and products.
Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA)
Through its annual renewable energy fair, the MREA gives individuals with similar passions a place and time to come together to work toward a common goal. The fair creates both individual rewards and positive change in the world. In return, all of those people have made the MREA’s energy fair the longest running and most successful renewable energy fair in the world.
Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life (MCCL)
MCCL’s tactics of encouraging supporters to take simple actions in their daily lives became a model for many pro-life groups. The small successes of those daily actions added up to big successes for the pro-life movement. Abortion may still be legal, but the small successes of ordinary pro-choice supporters have put severe limitations on the availability of abortion services around the country, creating spectacular success for MCCL and other pro-life organizations.
Solidarity was a Polish trade union federation formed in 1980 to challenge communist bureaucracy. It was the first union in a Warsaw Pact country to be controlled by workers rather than by the Communist Party. Solidarity resisted all government attempts to destroy it. The union negotiated for semi-free elections in 1989. Individuals from different levels and professions in Poland recognized their common needs. They were able to work together and satisfy each other through revolutions of identity and of the soul.
The Polish Revolution: Solidarity
Timothy Garton Ash
Original publication date: 1983
Yale University Press: 2002, pages 68 and 278
Southwest Airlines hires people who work well with other people and are willing to consider the consequences of their own actions on other people. Because the employees worked with and satisfied both each other and customers, Southwest has enjoyed continuous successes. The airline posted 45 consecutive years of profits in 2018. It has received recognition and won awards as one of the most admired corporations, as a best company to work for, as one of the best corporate citizens, for customer satisfaction, for providing Hispanics with scholarships and leadership opportunities, for being a military friendly employer, for being shareholder friendly, and for environmental innovation.
Captain D. Michael Abrashoff
When Michael Abrashoff became commander of the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Benfold, it was the worst performing ship in the Pacific Fleet. Wanting to improve Benfold’s performance, Abrashoff freed his crew to fulfill their talents. Those talents made Benfold the best performing ship in the Pacific Fleet. Impressed by the accomplishments of the Benfold crew, the U.S. Navy adopted several of those accomplishments to be used by the entire Navy. Today, Michael Abrashoff is an author of several books about Benfold and a popular speaker.
Staying on the path of working with others and satisfying others
or returning to a path of working with others and satisfying others
after mistakenly leaving it
Recognizing that a successful individual, group, or organization has left the working with others & satisfying others path that led to spectacular success
Making the changes necessary to return to the working with others & satisfying others path to spectacular success
Path That Led To Spectacular Success
Building a people company of happy employees who serve coffee with smiles so customers can enjoy a third place gathering spot between work and home
Departure From The Spectacular Success Path
Howard Schulz spent 18 years as CEO of Starbucks, turning a regional coffee chain into a global company. He built Starbucks with a particular intent:
“Starbucks is not a coffee company that serves people. It is a people company that serves coffee…”
Schultz retired in 2000 but became chairman of the board. From his retirement, Schultz watched Starbucks sour with too many new stores that resulted in “reducing the quality of the coffee-lover’s instore experience”.
Return To The Spectacular Success Path
Unhappy with the souring, Schultz came back as CEO. He apologized to his employees and partners for leadership mistakes. He returned Starbucks to its people focus:
Closing stores and reducing the workforce to improve customer experience.
Saving healthcare for all remaining employees, including part time employees.
Taking 10,000 store managers to New Orleans to help them “understand that everyone must be personally accountable and responsible for the outcome of every single customer interaction.”
Closing all stores to give all employees three and a half hours of retraining on making great cups of coffee.
Updating technology and espresso machines.
Giving customers mystarbucksidea.com and social media outlets so Starbucks could work with and satisfy customers by listening to them.
Expanding partnerships with Fairtrade and Conservation International.
Reducing the environmental impact of its stores.
Expanding its community service.
Paying tuition for employees to get online bachelor degrees.
Focusing on “…one partner, one customer, one cup of fantastic coffee at a time”, Starbucks made its way back to its spectacular success path.
“The HBR Interview: “We Had to Own the Mistakes”
Harvard Business Review
“Need a Turnaround” Make a Comeback the Starbucks Way”
CBS Money Watch
April 12, 2011
“Starbucks Espresso Excellence — exactly 2 years later [Open Thread]”
February 26, 2010
“Starbucks Gets It — How Happy Employees Result In Happy Customers”
November 5, 2014
“Starbucks: What Went Wrong at The Top”
CBS Money Watch
January 8, 2008
Spotlighting Standout Success
Other people responding positively to you
because they see you creating a success they value
Positive responses to people who make the world a better place
Making the world a better place
People who spotlight those who make the world a better place
Dr. Vivien Thomas
In 1976, Johns Hopkins University recognized that Vivien Thomas working with Dr. Alfred Blalock had made the world a better place for people with heart defects, heart disease, hemorrhagic shock, and traumatic shock. The university awarded Thomas an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. The doctors who trained with Dr. Thomas to do heart surgery commissioned a portrait of him. That portrait of Dr. Thomas hangs next to a portrait of Dr. Blalock in the Blalock Lobby of Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation instituted the Vivien Thomas Scholarship for Medical Science and Research, sponsored by GlasoSmithKline.
The Council on Cardiovascular Surgery and Anesthesiology instituted the Vivien Thomas Young Investigator Award.
The Baltimore City Public School System founded the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy.
The Journal of Surgical Case Reports named two annual prizes after Vivien Thomas, for the best case reports written by a doctor and by a medical student.
Students can now attend classes through the Vivien T. Thomas College at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The serendipitous success created by Dr. Alfred Blalock’s smart decision to hire a black male teenage carpenter’s assistant to work in his surgical research lab continues to grow and spread.
Positive responses to people who show standout talent
People who spotlight standout talent
When Susan Boyle walked onto the stage for her April 2009 Britain’s Got Talent performance, it did not take long for both the judges and the audience to laugh at her. Just seconds after Boyle started singing, the audience began cheering and clapping. Less than 30 seconds into the song, audience members began adding standing ovations to their cheers and clapping. Boyle’s first album became the most successful female debut album in history, was 2009’s best selling album in the world, and accumulated the most pre-order sales for a CD in Amazon history.
Positive responses to people who take standout actions
at some risk or cost to themselves to create success for others
Risky actions that create success for others
People who spotlight risky actions that lead to happy endings
In early January 2007, Wesley Autrey and his daughters were in the New York subway, waiting for a train. A 20 year old man in the waiting crowd had a seizure and fell off the platform onto the track in front of an oncoming train. Autrey handed his children to two strangers, jumped onto the track, and saved the young man’s life. Mayor Michael Bloomberg awarded Autrey New York City’s Bronze Medallion, NYC’s highest citizen award. George W. Bush invited Autrey and his daughters to his 2007 State of the Union address. Everyone there gave Autrey a long, standing ovation. CNN awarded Autrey its “everyday hero” award. David Letterman invited Autrey to be a guest on his show, which apparently was scarier than jumping onto a subway track in front of an oncoming train. People who wanted to reward him for his actions bought him a new car, Super Bowl tickets, and computers for his daughters. His daughters now have their college expenses paid for. People still recognize Autrey everywhere he goes.
Positive responses to beneficial words and actions
Beneficial words and actions
People who spotlight words and actions that benefit other people
CNN, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Nightly News, NBC Nightly News, People magazine and others spotlight the words and actions of ordinary people who solve economic, social, political, educational, environmental, and health problems in innovative ways that benefit many other people.
Spotlighting standout success depends on perspective. What represents standout success to one individual, group, organization, or country can be seen as a faulty or meaningless action by another individual, group, organization, or country.
Your respect for other people’s needs and passions
boomerangs back to you as unforeseen benefits
Respect for other people’s needs and passions
Robert Downey Jr.
In the early 1990s, Robert Downey Jr. attended a garden party for the ACLU of Southern California. After the speeches ended, a woman in her 80s tripped, fell, and badly cut her shin on the sharp edge of a wheelchair ramp. Granddaughter Dana Reinhardt was with her, but became faint. Robert Downey Jr. immediately took action. Issuing orders to call for an ambulance, bring water, and fetch a blanket, he then took off the jacket of his “gorgeous cream-colored linen suit” and tied it around the woman’s leg to stem the bleeding. He reassured the woman, distracted her, and told her how stunning her legs were with a whistle of appreciation.
Downey Jr. stayed with the woman until the ambulance arrived. He escorted her stretcher to the ambulance, telling the woman “she was breaking his heart by leaving the party so early, just as they were getting to know each other.” He waved goodbye as the paramedics closed the ambulance doors.
Dana Reinhardt said nothing to Downy Jr. as she got into the ambulance, “too embarrassed and way too shy to thank him.”
The old woman died 5 years later. Ten years after that, 15 years after the garden party, Reinhardt saw Robert Downey Jr. in a restaurant. In the intervening years, Downey Jr. had spent time in prison for possession of heroin, cocaine, and an unloaded .357 Magnum handgun. His failings did not stop Reinhardt from seeing him as “humanity personified”, “the best of what we can be”, the “kindest of strangers”. She approached Downey Jr.’s table to finally thank him for satisfying her grandmother’s physical, mental, and emotional needs in a frightening situation. Downey remembered Reinhardt’s grandmother. Reinhardt’s thank you was an unforeseen benefit boomeranging back to him just when he needed it.
Reinhardt told Downey Jr., “I just wanted to thank you. And I wanted to tell you that it was simply the kindest act I’ve ever witnessed.” Downey Jr. stood up from his table to take both Reinhardt’s hands and look her in the eyes. “You have absolutely no idea how much I needed to hear that today.”
“The Day Robert Downey Jr. Saved My Grandma”
Reader’s Digest Magazine
July 2014, pages 90-93.
Having your physical, mental, and emotional needs
in a particular situation neglected or denied,
setting you up to fail despite your own efforts
Inadequate food, water, shelter, safety, health care, education, love, respect, acceptance, and anything else needed to achieve satisfying accomplishments
Parents, medical professionals, teachers, politicians, and anyone else who could satisfy needs in a particular situation
Parents neglecting, abusing, and even killing their children
Medical professionals failing to provide adequate health care
Teachers, mentors, and coaches ignoring individual needs
Employers neglecting to provide the skills, resources, and surroundings for employees to be successful
Politicians cutting funding for food and medical care to people who will then go hungry and rarely get medical treatment
Failing to achieve your goals despite your own efforts
No identity within the scene of action
People who deny you an identity, closing doors to your participation within the scene of action
Colleges denying student identities to applicants
Employers denying employee identities to applicants
Coaches denying team member identities to athletic hopefuls
Voters denying political identities to candidates
Citizens denying voting identities to other citizens
No recognition of your identity within the scene of action
People who refuse to recognize your identity within the scene of action
Groups refusing to recognize what you say only to applaud the same statement made by another member
Employers paying, promoting, and listening to people based of appearance (age, gender, race, etc.) or status (economic status, educational status, political status, professional status, etc.) rather competence
Coaches making one player a star player instead of developing the talents of all players
Citizens ignoring other citizens with different perspectives
Citizens ignoring politicians with different perspectives
Politicians ignoring other politicians with different perspectives
Politicians ignoring citizens with different perspectives
If choice is possible, anyone with the ability to affect weather outcomes
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated cities and towns along the Gulf Coast, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents, destroying homes, schools, hospitals, businesses, and shutting down oil refineries. Residents along the Gulf Coast experienced the fundamental failure of being unable to live their normal lives despite their own efforts.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time to just by chance
suffer a loss because of someone else’s failure
Any aspect of life
If choice is possible, anyone
Hurricane Katrina‘s disruption of oil production in the Gulf Coast led to increased gas prices for drivers of many kinds of vehicle across the U.S.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time to just by chance suffer a loss
because of someone else’s decisions and/or actions
Poorly considered decisions and actions
People who make decisions and take actions without considering the consequences
Residents of Johnstown, Pennsylvania
In 1879, the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club bought the Western Reservoir between Philadelphia and Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The club owned the reservoir, the dam, and about 160 acres of land. The club lowered the dam so two carriages could cross it at the same time. It installed a screen to keep expensive game fish from escaping that also caught debris and prevented the reservoir’s overflow from draining. The club took out drainage pipes and never put them back. Those human choices contributed to one of the worst disasters in American history, the Johnstown Flood of May 31st, 1889. After unusually heavy rains, the dam collapsed, killing more than 2000 people in Johnstown.
People Who Died of Infectious Diseases between 1897 and 1944
In 1897, Ernest Duchesne wrote his PhD dissertation about Penicillium glaucum. The Insitut Pasteur ignored it. Millions died, particularly during World War I, because of the Institut’s decision.
Because of the subprime mortgage financial crisis, people wanting to buy houses lost the ability to find home loans. People wanting to sell houses had to take big losses. Banks failed and had to close. People working for mortgage brokers lost their jobs. People who had nothing to do with creating the mortgage crisis experienced the freaky failure of losing their jobs, losing their businesses, and/or losing their own homes.
Wisconsin Mortgage Fraud Victims
Wisconsin residents who lost their homes because of mortgage fraud experienced freaky failure again when Governor Scott Walker decided to break his campaign promise to “End the practice of raiding segregated state funds to pay for other programs”. The settlement funds for Wisconsin were about $140 million. Walker kept $26 million to balance the books in Wisconsin after his policies created budget deficits.
“Gov. Scott Walker Pockets Money Intended For Wisconsin Foreclosure Victims To Make Up State Budget Shortfall”
February 11, 2012
Ignoring opportunities for serendipitous success in people
who are different from you because you believe
your success depends on their failure
Morgan State University
Three years after Dr. Alfred Blalock performed the first heart surgery using the techniques Vivien Thomas developed, Thomas investigated fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor by contacting Morgan State University (MSU) in Baltimore, Maryland. MSU refused to grant Thomas credit for his life experience, telling him he would have to take all of the normal freshman courses. MSU denied Vivien Thomas a positive identity as an adult with real world experience and shortsightedly failed to include a medical pioneer on its list of distinguished alumni.
Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld would not speak to employees he considered beneath him, talked about crushing his competitors, and thought Lehman Brothers could take any amount of risk. He financed long term investments with short term money. When Lehman Brothers collapsed in the biggest bankruptcy in history (ten times bigger than Enron), its stock had plummeted from a high value of $85 a share to 3¢ a share.
Institut Pasteur of Paris, France
Linnean Society of London, England
In the mid 1890s, Ernest Duchesne noticed that Arab stable boys at the hospital of the Military Health Service Schools of Lyons were intentionally putting saddles in dark and damp rooms so that mold would grow on them. He asked them why. The stable boys told him that the mold helped heal saddle sores on horses. Bedouin tribes in North Africa had been making a healing ointment from mold on donkey harnesses for more than a 1000 years.
Duchesne did a successful experiment with Penicillium glaucum and wrote about it for his 1897 PhD dissertation. The elites at the Institut Pasteur closed their minds to Duchesne’s paper because he was an unknown 23 year old. No one took his research any further and Duchesne had to stop his research because of his military service. He became so ill that the army discharged him. He died 14 years after presenting his dissertation.
Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit books and others, also had scientific interests. Potter wrote a paper about the symbiotic nature of lichens. Understanding the symbiotic nature of lichens was an early step on the way to the use of penicillin. Because the all-male Linnean Society of London did not allow women to present papers, a man presented Potter’s paper for her in 1897. The Society’s scientists closed their minds to Potter’s research because she was both a woman and an amateur.
In 1928, Alexander Fleming rediscovered the antibiotic properties of penicillin, specifically Penicillium notatum.
In the late 1930s, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin began using x-ray crystallography to find the structures of over 100 molecules, including penicillin, insulin, and B-12. Understanding of structure provides an understanding of function.
In 1941, Oxford University scientist Howard Florey and a team that included Ernest Chain and Norman Heatley used penicillin to successfully treat mice injected with a lethal dose of streptococci bacteria.
Later in 1941, Andrew J. Moyer, with assistance from Dr. Heatley, developed a technique for increasing the yields of penicillin.
In 1943, the clinical trials for penicillin were completed.
In 1944, penicillin was available to treat Allied soldiers wounded on D-Day.
In 1945 the the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst Chain, and Sir Howard Florey for their work on penicillin.
In 1949, Ernest Duchesne received posthumous recognition for discovering penicillin before Alexander Fleming did.
In 1964, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
In 1997, the Linnean Society officially apologized to Beatrix Potter.
Who discovered penicillin?
John Tyndall experimented with and wrote about penicillin in 1875.
Ernest Duchesne experimented with and wrote about penicillin in the mid 1890s.
Clodimiro Picado Twight experimented with and wrote about penicillin in 1915.
Alexander Fleming experimented with and wrote about penicillin in 1928.
While all these men were doing experiments, Bedouin tribes and Arab stable boys had been using mold from harnesses and saddles to heal saddle sores on horses for more than a 1000 years. Bedouins obviously did some experimentation when they first discovered the mold’s healing properties. Their continuing use of a mold to heal means Bedouins discovered penicillin before any of the scientists. The scientists identified the reason molds could heal, but Bedouin tribes had been using the healing ingredient all along.
Who used mold to treat infections before or at the same time as Bedouins? Ancient Egyptians, ancient Greeks, and ancient East Indians.
Western science failed to see opportunities for serendipitous success by foolishly ignoring how ancient cultures had successfully used molds for healing.
Read about an example of serendipitous success instead of foolish failure. Western doctors paid attention to people who were different from them. That serendipitous success is available to you.
The Book of General Ignorance
John Mitchinson and John Lloyd
Faber and Faber, 2006: pages 158-159.
Henry Ford Hospital
When Vivien Thomas first worked with Dr. Alfred Blalock, they were at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit offered Dr. Blalock the Chief of Surgery position. Dr. Blalock wanted to take Thomas with him. Henry Ford Hospital was “lily white” in the words of Thomas’ sister, and refused to employ a black surgical research technician. Because of its prejudice about blacks, Henry Ford Hospital foolishly turned away the man who pioneered the techniques for heart surgery. Dr. Blalock stayed at Vanderbilt so he could continue working with Vivien Thomas.
Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery
Later published under the title:
Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock
Vivien T. Thomas
Ignoring identities within the scene of action
Companies with Few or No Women on Their Boards
Companies that keep women off their boards of directors demonstrate lower corporate social responsibility. These companies foolishly lose out on the customers willing to pay more for corporate social responsibility.
“100 Women: Do women on boards increase company profits?”
October 2, 2017
“Consumers Will Pay More For Corporate Social Responsibility”
The NonProfit Times
June 17, 2014
“Do Consumers Care About Social Impact?”
August 6, 2013
“How Social Responsibility Helps Your Business”
Ignoring the other side of the story
Residential Care Company
A residential care company employee learned that some of her coworkers were telling lies about her. After several months a former coworker sent the worker an email warning that that she was in danger of being fired because of a lie. The employee wrote letters to the two founders of the company and the regional director. All of them ignored her side of the story. Because they ignored the employee, none of the upper management was aware that the company had a terrible reputation. When the employee started talking to other people about being fired because of coworkers’ lies, people responded with their own stories about the company:
A woman said the residential care company fired her sister because of coworkers’ lies.
A hairdresser said a new client came in and talked about how she got fired from the residential care company because of coworkers’ lies.
A supervisor at a care giving company said that she had encounters with employees of the residential care company, and they told lies.
The parent of a developmentally disabled person said she knew an employee of the residential care company who told stories about coworkers telling lies.
A home health care worker told a new client she had worked for the residential care company and described it as a bad company to work for.
A residential care company employee waited until her last day to tell the company she was leaving because she was afraid of what management would do to her if she gave two weeks notice. Before she left the company, the employee talked to a professional in social services about witnessing coworkers abusing the people they were supposed to be taking care of.
When we are feeling threatened, fearful, angry, sad, depressed, lonely, or pessimistic, we can become shortsighted, arrogant, close-minded, and prejudiced. We can also ignore identities as well as the other side of the story. We can fail to see what other people have to offer us or fail to leave doors open for serendipitous successes.
Ignoring local luminaries (local residents who are talented and accomplished)
Other local residents
A frustrated bird expert wrote Dear Abby, trying to understand why the organizers of a bird festival in his hometown refused to consider him as a speaker despite his accomplishments: “books. scientific papers, blog, website, consultant work, etc.” In response, Abby paraphrased a verse from the Bible, “A prophet is without honor in his own hometown.” (Luke 4:24)
“Hometowns often overlook local experts”
May 3, 2012
The unforeseen failure other people intentionally create for you
because you intentionally create failure for them
Often created behind your back so you may never know how
other people have taken revenge on your life.
Maintaining a “Me first”, “Me only”, “Us first”, or “Us only” attitude without any consideration for other people.
(“I don’t care what happens to you.”)
(“I don’t care what happens to them.”)
You, through your decisions to create failure for other people
Osama bin Laden
Nearly ten years after Osama bin Laden planned and carried out the 9/11 attack that killed thousands of U.S. citizens, the United States planned and carried out a raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941 as an attempt to keep the U.S Pacific Fleet from influencing Japan’s planned actions in Southeast Asia. The United States responded by declaring war on Japan and eventually bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
Residents of U.S. Cities
In the 1960s, blacks in a number of U.S. cities became tired of the failures prejudiced whites created for them daily. They reacted with riots that created various kinds of failures for white businesses, white government officials, and white citizens.
Unnamed Competitive Swimmer
Michael Phelps is the swimmer who brought 8 gold medals home from the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. At the 2012 Olympics in London, Phelps finished his Olympic career as the most decorated athlete in Olympic history with 22 medals. When Phelps was a teenager in competitive swimming, another swimmer consistently treated him badly. After Phelps won a competition, the other swimmer came to congratulate him. Phelps refused to acknowledge knowing him.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney continually mocked former President Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter’s grandson, James Carter IV, felt a need to fight back at Romney. Every few days, Carter IV searched the Internet for videos of Romney that might be damaging. It was Carter IV who found the infamous “47%” video. The release of the video on September 17 moved Obama into a clear lead that he maintained through the election.
Obsessively working against others and depriving others
to satisfy your need to prove that your beliefs equal truth
A desire to create a world order based on the pure superiority of one group of people over the evil inferiority of another group of people
Leaders who want power and glory
Social, economic, and political conflicts existed between Christians and Jews for hundreds of years before Adolf Hitler was born. In Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler wrote about his attitude change towards Jews. Originally, Hitler was “not in agreement with the sharp anti-Semitic tone” based on the Jewish religion. His attitude changed to being certain that Jews “cannot possess a religious institution”.
“The Jew has always been a people with definite racial characteristics and never a religion.”
“…the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.”
Hitler learned “the poison potion of a policy of hatred” from Dr. Karl Lueger. Lueger was mayor of Vienna in Austria from 1897 until his death in 1910. He was cofounder and leader of the Christian Social Party.
Hitler came to believe that the evil Jews had gained vast power. He believed that this evil Jewish power had caused the Bolshevik revolution and
“led to revolution in Germany, had stabbed the German Army in the back and had
brought down Imperial Germany.”
The only solution to “The Jewish Question” was to “exclude Jews from Germany society.”
Hitter’s fanaticism towards Jews resulted in:
15,000,000 battle deaths
25,000,000 battle wounded
45,000,000 civilian deaths
It also led to Germany losing the war and Hitler committing suicide.
For ordinary Germans, Hitler’s fanaticism led to:
Occupation by the foreign counties who won the
Food crisis and malnutrition
Adolf Hitler’s fanatical need to prove that his beliefs about Jews equaled truth about Jews led to other countries working against Germany and deprivation for all German citizens.
“Background of Post-WWII German History
Mount Holyoke College
“By The Numbers: World-Wide Deaths”
“The Hitler Myth”
“The Nazi hatred of the Jews”
“Vienna in row over legacy of historic antisemitic mayor Karl Lueger”
April 27, 2012
Finding Fault Failure
Other people responding negatively to you because
they see you creating a failure they detest
Negative responses to harmful words and actions
People who find fault with criminal actions
Bernie Madoff operated a Ponzi scheme that cheated thousands of individuals and organizations out of billions of dollars. The police arrested Madoff. Lawyers prosecuted Madoff. A jury convicted Madoff. Madoff is now in prison for the rest of his life.
Disrespectful words and actions
People who find fault with disrespectful words and actions
Rupert Murdoch and News of the World Employees
Journalists working for Britain’s News of the World newspaper paid police officers for information, including cell phone numbers of surviving family members of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and surviving family members of victims of the 7/7 terrorist attack in London. News of the World also hacked into the cell phone voicemail of a missing teenager who was later found dead. Outrage at the disrespectful words and actions of News of the World employees towards military families, terror victims’ families, and the possibility that the newspaper interfered with the police investigation into the teenager’s disappearance forced owner Rupert Murdoch to close down the newspaper.
Insulting words and actions
People who find fault with insulting words and actions
During Tony Hayward‘s time as CEO of British Petroleum, BP continued to create the worst safety record in the industry. After the spring 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oilrig, Hayward insulted the families of the workers killed in the explosion by saying, “I’d like my life back.” BP ended Hayward’s tenure as CEO in the fall of 2010.
“BP CEO Tony Hayward Apologizes For His Idiotic Statement: “I’d Like My Life Back”
June 2, 2010
Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, wrote tweets comparing Republican Governor Scott Walker to Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer was a Milwaukee, Wisconsin serial killer and cannibal. The Wisconsin Democratic Party removed Zielinski from his spokesman position and docked him $1000 in pay.
Racial profiling words and actions
People who find fault with racial profiling words and actions
The legislature of Arizona passed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act that Governor Jan Brewer signed. The legislation gives law enforcement the authority to ask for residency papers from people they believe are in Arizona illegally. Legal immigrants who cannot produce the documents could be arrested, jailed for up to 6 months, and fined $2,500. Residents of other states who saw the legislation as legalizing racial profiling canceled meetings, concerts, and vacations. A group of Arizonians living in Pima County launched an effort to secede from the rest of the state and become the state of Baja Arizona. Arizona citizens voted the architect of the immigration bill, State Senator Russell Pearce, out of office in a special recall election. Mesa voters continued to find fault with Pearce, and he lost his 2012 primary election bid to make a political comeback to the state legislature.
Negative responses to political harassment
Government officials harassing citizens, making their daily lives difficult
People who find fault with political harassment
Tunisian fruit seller Muhammad Al Bouazizi endured continuing harassment by government officials who made it difficult for him to sell fruit for income to help his family. Because he apparently felt he could not get the local officials to pay attention to him in any other way, Al Bouazizi set fire to himself in front of a government building in December 2010. In protest, people took to the streets. President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali sent out his police, who injured and killed demonstrators. After Al Bouazizi died from his injuries, the demonstrations spread across the country. Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia 10 days after Al Bouazizi died.
Negative responses to political oppression
Political leaders who oppress citizens by denying them rights
People who find fault with political oppression
For 30 years, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak oppressed Egyptians politically and economically. Following the success of ordinary Tunisians in ousting their president, ordinary Egyptians took to the streets, demanding Mubarak step down. Mubarak resigned in February 2011, 18 days after the demonstrations began. He faces continuing legal troubles.
Finding fault depends on perspective. What represents faulty action to one individual, group, organization, or country can be seen as justifiable or heroic action by another individual, group, organization, or country.
Your neglect for other people’s needs and passions
backfires onto you as unforeseen blunders
Neglecting to protect customers’ need to eat safe food
Business executives who choose profit over people
Peanut Corporation of America CEO Stewart Parnell knowingly had his company ship peanut butter that was not safe. He had peanut butter shipped:
Before it was tested for salmonella.
After it was tested for salmonella but before the results came back.
After it had tested positive for salmonella and had been retested again.
In the salmonella outbreak that followed, more than 700 people got sick and 9 people died. Parnell’s blunder backfired onto him as a 28 year prison sentence.
Leaving a path of working with others and satisfying others
to focus on satisfying your desire to feel special
Leaving a well-traveled path to spectacular success
People who join farther down the path, but have no interest in staying on the path.
Food Cooperative In A Small City
At its spectacular success peak, cooperative members could pay for membership or earn membership through monthly volunteer hours. The cooperative was well organized and friendly. Tourists who were members of cooperatives where they lived would stop in to visit. A good number of them said things like, “This is the best cooperative I’ve ever visited!”
The cooperative started as a group of people working together to be able to afford the type of food they wanted to eat. It grew from extra space at a home into a well-liked store because it followed a path that led it to spectacular success.
Abandoned Spectacular Success Path
Creating a physical space for sharing work, sharing perspectives, and sharing fun.
From Spectacular Success To Soured Success
Members created a space where they could share work to provide themselves with healthy food, share perspectives on life and the world, and share the fun of laughter, music, and dance. The fun extended to the community with a yearly dinner the weekend before Thanksgiving. Members brought musical instruments for after dinner playing.
After a couple of decades, the founding members began to move on and retire. New people came in as managers. The new managers did not understand the cooperative’s path to spectacular success. They changed the cooperative into what they wanted. They eliminated the shared work by ending volunteer work hours. They changed the perspective by stocking expensive foods that few of the paid members and former volunteers could afford. They ruined the fun by alienating members and the community. The last community dinner the new managers hosted attracted about 25 people, down from a high of about 400 people. They removed the history of the cooperative’s shared work, perspective, and fun beginnings from its website.
The two new managers who started all these changes felt so special that they separated themselves from everyone else. They moved the manager’s office from the first floor to the second floor and stayed up there all day. They retired after satisfying all of their desires to feel special for as long as they wanted.
The cooperative sank from a spectacular success to a soured success. It is still in business, but it has lost income. Angry and frustrated former members took their money elsewhere. Some took their money to other cooperatives. Others took their money to local grocery chains that recognized what was happening and stocked foods appealing to the former members.
The cooperative will remain soured unless current management puts it back on its spectacular success path.
© Paula M. Kramer, 2011
All rights reserved.
Last updated August 19, 2018