Homage to the mistake, or the spearfishing

I love spearfishing for it is an endless series of unsuccessful attempts, an infinite gallery of mistakes interrupted every now and again by a catch, proudly displayed on social media and avatars.

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The Italian word “errare” has two different meanings: to commit mistakes and roam in the search for something – in this format it is closer to the idea of experimenting and, personally, it is the way I have chosen to absolve myself from all the wrong duck dives, the missed fishes, the “ripped” ones, the bent spears and the whole range of failures I have been experiencing since starting spearfishing. Being able to fail, although it might seem paradoxical, is the key to some companies’ success, probably of all the companies that aim to innovate the world over.

Samuel West, management scholar who dedicated a whole museum to the mistake in the civilized Sweden says: ‘’ Even the biggest baddest most competent companies fail. The trick is to create an organizational culture that accepts failure so that you can fail small… rather than failing big ’’.  The secret seems therefore to have a scientific approach in committing mistakes: experimenting is different from experience because it is the result of analysis and includes mistakes as a necessary step to learning. This concept is very familiar to all who practice, for example, martial arts.

Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO: ‘’Our hit ratio is way too high right now. So, we’ve cancelled very few shows. I am always pushing the content team: We have to take more risk; you have to try more crazy things. Because we should have a higher cancel rate overall’’. There is no innovation without uncertainty. Uncertainty needs a secure space so that people can consciously decide to run risks. If organizations are living systems and not machines, they evolve through the chaos that comes with creation.

And finally, for the most philosophical amongst us, to be mistaken is connected to our most intimate fears:’’ for the first three months I place each student at a table with a thousand pieces of white paper and a trash can underneath. Every day they have to sit at the table for several hours and write ideas. The put the ideas they like on the right side of the table; the ones they don’t like, they put in the trash. But we don’t throw out the trash. After three months I only take the ideas from the trashcan. I don’t even look at the ideas they liked. Because the trashcan is a treasure trove of things they’re afraid to do’’. (Walk through Walls, a Memoir is James Kaplan and Marina Abramović’s book).

To summarise, companies embracing a mistake-including culture as a way to better performance and profit, have successfully introduced these practices within their routine:

  1. The mistake doesn’t exist and it is encouraged simply for it is a natural phase of experimenting;
  2. Prototyping, ‘’ the quicker you fail, the quicker you will be successful’’, trying many times with small trials one after the other;
  3. Participating leadership (secure spaces where to live uncertainty and distribute the weight of mistakes);
  4. To celebrate failure (Jeff Immelt, General Electric CEO, created the Failure Awards, which every year rewarded the biggest internal failures within the company);
  5. Truthfulness (encouraging people not to wear masks in the work place);

How about we decide to incorporate these teachings and practices within our recreational and spearfishing sessions? Here are some suggestions to fail on a small scale!

  1. Use those days where you feel all the fish have disappeared from the planet to experiment with new ways to do the same things, even if they guaranteed success in the past;
  2. Prepare your experimenting in advance, and record sensations and results as if you were a researcher looking to discover a new medicine;
  3. Experiment a lot and fast: don’t look at the watch. Your 2,40 dives will not guarantee you more fish and they will mean infinite recovery and a lot more cold;
  4. Always ask for feedback from your fishing partners, and film them to re-watch them at home, taking your time. Your body can send you important messages: some fishermen shoot an empty shot just to ‘’synchronize’’ wrist and gun.
  5. Record your ‘’outtakes’’ and show them with pride on YouTube. For example, we really like the video here above, where Giovanni completely misses a beautiful Diplodus Cervinus.
  6. Exercise your mind with the same dedication you show to your body. Good fishing begins with the rite of dressing your wetsuit for the part.

Michael Jordan a canestro

I want to borrow my best suggestion for the next spearfishing session from the great Michael Jordan: ‘’ I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’’

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