4 Ways to Make Sure You Fail (as an Artist)

As a companion piece to my Beckett-free non-fiction haiku on failure yeasterday (sic), please enjoy this, which appeared serendipitously, in my in-tray:


Have a lack of routine

For the record, here are some things you DON’T need to have in your routine:

  • Mornings
  • Green smoothies
  • Running
  • Affirmations
  • Meditation

Here is the one thing you DO need to have:

  • Uninterrupted time




*yeasterday (sic) = 

As in yeast, the leavening agent in bread. A day in which something rises. Something positive, ‘but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones?’




A very short blog about failure that doesn’t mention Samuel Beckett

  1. If you want to fail, avoid any insight into your success.
  2. Start believing your own propaganda*.


*I was going to say PR (actually I was going to say bullshit, but that offends our transatlantic cousins), but the p-word is the best, because unlike PR which is neutral-ish, propaganda is universally seen as A Bad Thing.



Jeff, Who Lives In Our Apartment Stairwell — Medium

via Jeff, Who Lives In Our Apartment Stairwell — Medium

New York City is expensive.

As part of the affordable housing requirements in our apartment building, the management has set aside certain areas for individuals with low incomesand/or who are formerly homeless.

On the third floor stairwell lives one recipient of those initiatives: a man named Jeffrey who has lived in New York City for forty-five years. I spoke to him one Saturday afternoon.

How’s it going?

Today’s a good day.

What makes it a good day?

There’s a little sliver of light that comes in through the hole in the wall on certain days. Sometimes the sun isn’t at the right angle but today it did come through and that made me happy.


How long have you lived in this building?

I’m going on three years now. My case worker came to me one day and said, Jeff, Who Lives in the Apartment Stairwell — that’s my name since I’ve been living in stairwells for a while — we have the perfect place for you.

And she brought me here. It didn’t look as good as it does now, I’ve really fixed the place up. I could tell it had good bones and it would turn out okay once I cleared out all the mice feces.

Where were you living before?

I’ve been in a few different stairwells before. I was over in Manhattan for a while in the Lower East Side but then came to Fort Greene and Clinton Hill but got priced out of those stairwells. My landlord turned off all the services to my rent-stabilized stairwell and locked me out and I wasn’t as familiar then as I am now with New York City regulations and rules so I just left.

How did you become homeless initially?

I lost my job. That was the start of it. Then I couldn’t keep paying my rent, I didn’t have enough saved up, that’s my own fault, I admit that, but I didn’t have enough to cover the rent and I was evicted. I didn’t know where to go so I slept in my car.

But then my car got towed and I didn’t have enough money to get it out of impound and I slept in Prospect Park. I’ve used some of the city services but I don’t like the shelters. People get stabbed, your stuff gets stolen, it’s just a nasty place to be. Worse than sleeping on the streets, I think.

How well do you get along with the neighbors here?

Well, most of them are fine. I have a lease, I’m legally allowed to be here. I know there’s no door but this is my area. And so when people put bikes here or trash, that really pisses me off.

Or they call management to complain about me. I’ve had a bunch of people call the management and are shocked that someone is living legally in the stairwell.

Now read on… Jeff, Who Lives In Our Apartment Stairwell — Medium

Contrary to the Harvard Business School? | Henry Mintzberg | LinkedIn


A coy, slight piece from one of the few ‘-bergs’ lauded by the BS* world, who I have some respect for.

When I grow up, I want to be his kind of contrarian: the kind who contrariefies in order to improve.

It’s the shift from gadfly to sage, from insect to herb, it’s the shift from Torbert level 10 going all the way to eleven.

I’m going to follow Mr. M. Not in real life, that would be stalking, I mean follow his blog.


*BS = business school.

The real gorilla in the room: RIP Harambe


Since the Cincinnati Zoo made the decision to shoot their silverback gorilla Harambe in order to save a little boy’s life last week, lots of people have been weighing in…

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the mighty, the scary, the awesome:

Gorilla Of Unintended Consequences.

“She… explains that zoo enclosures have become less safe in an effort to offer unimpeded views to visitors. The fact that this has been an unnoticed problem until now doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a problem all along.” 

In more recent decades, zoos have begun to redesign enclosures, removing all obvious caging and attempting to create a seamless view of the animals for the visitor to enjoy watching animals in a more natural looking habitat. *this is great until little children begin falling into exhibits* which of course can happen to anyone, especially in a crowded zoo-like setting.

O‘Donoughue has watched the tapes too. The soft-hearted amongst us may think Harambe is holding hands with the toddler in the same friendly way a human would, but gorillas are not humans and you can’t read their body language in the same way…

So, IMHO, the real gorilla in the room is the sadly very much alive and kicking  Gorilla Of Unintended Consequences.

One feels moved to ask: what is the purpose of a zoo? They all have different raisins-detray (yes, I know that’s not how you spell it).

Mr. Checkland, of SSM fame would say: POSIWID – The Purpose Of the System Is What It Does. Maybe the purpose of this zoo is to maximise visitor numbers to in turn maximise revenue. Maybe it is ‘to improve animal shootings, year on year.’

Whatever it is, this sad case is a perfect example of the Gorilla Of Unintended Consequences.







TRUE GRIT: the key thing is agency. Do I have agency?



“But teaching grit is tricky. “There’s no evidence that any particular curriculum or textbook or app can effectively teach kids grit or self-control or curiosity,” says Tough.

“It’s not an inherent trait, you can’t give students a test and know if they have it,” Tough said. “It’s a series of behaviors or habits.” 

When Tough examined how to actually impart these qualities for his follow-up book author of Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, research into neurobiology and motivation led him to conclude that teaching grit was not nearly enough.


Readers might prefer the term ‘resilience’, as introduced by Martin Seligman and others, than the very Wild West sounding ‘grit’. Rooster Cogburn had it in abundance, not sure he would have approved of a namby-pamby college-boy word like ‘resilience’.

An allied concept is agency, of which Wikipedia tells us: The concept of agency implies an active organism, one who desires, makes plans, and carries out actions.[5] The sense of agency plays a pivotal role in cognitive development, including the first stage of self-awareness (or pre-theoretical experience of one’s own mentality), which scaffolds theory of mind capacities.[6][page needed] Indeed, the ability to recognize oneself as the agent of a behavior is the way the self builds as an entity independent from the external world.[1] The sense of agency and its scientific study has important implications in social cognition, moral reasoning, and psychopathology. The conceptual distinction between SA and SO was defined by philosopher and phenomenologist Shaun Gallagher.[2] Using a different terminology, essentially the same distinction has been made by John Campbell,[7] and Lynn Stephens and George Graham.[4]


So here’s the key question for your children, or  whoever you are concerned about, or indeed yourself, and it is this:

Do I have agency?

Do I as a person recognise myself as the agent of my behavior? Because this is “the way the self builds as an entity independent from the external world”. Or are you a passive receptacle for media manipulation and everybody else’s desires and wishes?

One keynote speaker at a conference organised by the now defunct Children’s Workforce Development Council made a sterling attempt to promote agency as one of the key aspects of improving well-being in school-aged children. He is right, IMHO, and largely ignored. I would tell you his name but I don’t have his presentation to hand.

 “There’s no evidence that any particular curriculum or textbook or app can effectively teach kids grit or self-control or curiosity.” 

Context matters, he argues. The key isn’t the habit itself, but creating the environment needed for it to flourish.

And there is the task, dear reader, be you a parent a teacher or a manager or a leader. I’ll be presenting at at least one conference on the topic of ‘Agency at Work: why you should worry if your staff are hard-working and docile’ in the coming months. Contact me for details.