Virtual Voices
Twins catcher Ryan Doumit rests his chin on the dugout rail during a late-season loss to the Cleveland Indians.
Associated Press/Photo by Jim Mone
Twins catcher Ryan Doumit rests his chin on the dugout rail during a late-season loss to the Cleveland Indians.

Learning life lessons from those who lose

Sports

Many of the best coaches in history—Bill Parcells, Phil Jackson, Tony LaRussa, among others—have written books about their success and have influenced businessmen, other coaches, and individuals looking to better themselves. It makes sense to look to the best for tips on being better. But what happens if you are in a culture of failure? Take, for example, Minnesota professional sports, a context with which I am deeply familiar that has a perpetual string of disappointments. Can we learn lessons for success from those who aren’t successful?

Just this past week I saw the general manager of baseball’s Minnesota Twins, who is responsible for acquiring talent for the team, re-sign a manager who has led the team to three-straight 90-loss seasons. This came just days after the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings coach said he would keep a quarterback in the starting lineup who has played poorly for nearly 30 straight games even though the backup QB had just led the team to its first win of the season. My reaction to these decisions started with anger, moved to morose resignation, and then ultimately landed on laughter at the absurdity. But then I started to wonder what it was that led to such ongoing failure and came up with a few observations.

Failure often stems from stubbornly continuing to do something that clearly isn’t working. It sounds obvious, and that’s because it ought to be. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness, or maybe it’s pride, but either way, when we steadfastly continue to do something obviously wrong we fall well short of success at anything.

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Closely related is the fact that failure comes from a refusal to learn and adapt. At all times, circumstances, culture, and people are changing, and if we don’t change too we will fail, whether it’s relationships or ministry, business or baseball. The Twins have carried on in “The Twins Way” of doing business for decades now, even though their successes are long past. That’s a failure to adapt to new realities, and it’s a common mistake.

When it is time to make a change it should be done decisively, without waffling, and then communicated clearly. Maybe this means ending a relationship, letting an employee go, or leaving a job yourself. Maintaining status quo won’t work and neither will half-measures. Last year the Twins released a number of lower-level coaches in an effort to improve, but they didn’t improve the substance of the team. It was a cosmetic change disguised as something decisive, an incremental change instead of a clear new direction.

These kinds of failure habits are common to dying churches, stunted marriages, and dead-end jobs. You will find them in your own life and in corporate contexts. Look for those things that aren’t working, and the patterns of disappointment that accompany them. Is there a habit of failure there or a change that needs to be made? Maybe you do need advice from the best to help you, but sometimes learning from the worst works well too.

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