Walking the Talk - I Need Your Help Failing! | Driving Eureka! #23


This week I need your help - in May I'm giving a commencement speech and I'm hoping that you will give me feedback on the first draft. 

Just like your feedback is one small step in my cycle of learning on the speech - the book segment this week talks about how small steps build courage. 

Don't stop reading before you you get to this week's Brain Brew Whiskey Academy - stories of failure that have brought great success.



Newsletter 23 Key Image

Walking the Talk -
I Need Your Help with Failing! 

The following is my first draft of a commencement speech to a Graduate school that I’m giving in May. I’d love your ideas and advice. 

Family and friends this is a very special group of people. To be awarded an advanced degree requires that the candidate formally or informally make an original contribution to the world’s knowledge. These amazing people are explorers and adventurers. They have demonstrated the courage to push the boundaries of human knowledge. Let us recognize their courage. 

I’d like to thank the University for giving me the opportunity for a do over. Speaking at the 2008 commencement ceremony I urged graduates to declare independence from baby boomer conformity. I urged them to think for themselves and to not “sell out” their values as many from my 60’s generation have done.

Over the the past few months - I’ve reflected on that speech and concluded that I made a mistake. Today I correct it.   

Fellow graduates - instead of simply encouraging you to think for yourself…I challenge you to go forth and fail fearlessly.

Yes - I said - fail fearlessly.

It is only by learning to love failure that you can achieve great things.

It’s as basic as the scientific method that you embraced on your journey to this day.

It’s as fundamental as Dr. Deming’s Theory Of Knowledge - PLAN, DO, STUDY, ACT.

It is how we learn anything. It’s how we learn to ride a bike - we try, we fail, we learn, we try again. It’s how we learn to read, to write and to invent amazing solutions to the challenges the world faces.

2019 graduates, you have been given a special gift as a result of your persistence, grit and importantly the support of your family, friends and the University community. 

Now is not the time to become academically “retired in place.” 

Now is not the time to become prudent, proper and puckered.

Now IS the time to become an expert at failing fearlessly.    

Now IS the time to use your degree - as your license to fail.

Use your success that we acknowledge today as a platform for teaching the naysayers, the insecure, and mental scaredy cats of this world about how failure is the foundation for greatness. 

To paraphrase Dr. Deming - how could they know, how could they know, how could they know the value of failing if they’ve never traveled the journey that you my friends have traveled in your journey to this day.

On campus you live in a community committed to learning. As you go forth to the real world - that will not always be the case. To help you I offer you these three simple lessons that I’ve learned:

  1. Fail FAST & Fail CHEAP -  use your creative abilities to find ways to do rapid and cost effective experimentation.

  2. THINK BIG - focus your efforts on projects that are bold and that have the potential to make a meaningful difference in the world.

  3. EMBRACE THE CRAZY - They don’t give patents to people who are prudent.  If your idea is an obvious leap by those skilled in the art, your patent application is rejected. They only give patents to the crazy ones…Author, Stephen King - a man who knows a bit about fear...feels that within all of us is a healthy craziness…Stephen wrote, “I think that we're all mentally ill. Those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better - and maybe not all that much better after all.”

So you know I’m not preaching without practicing. My team, set out to invent a way to accelerate the aging of whiskey. In one crazed week we failed 72 times in 7 days. We made horrible, horrible whiskey. And with each failure we got smarter and smarter. 

Then one morning - we connected the dots - experiment 13, experiment 30 and 70.  Said theatrically we had transformed the space time continuum for whiskey aging.

Double gold medals, and market success followed. And it all was because of a courage to fail fearlessly. Without failure there will be no learning.   

As Ben Franklin wrote, “Up sluggard and waste not life - In the grave will be sleeping enough.”  Deep inside all of us is magical curiosity. A curiosity that fuels our courage to fail, learn and fail again.

In closing, in recognition of your courage - and the memory of my family’s graduates of this great university - my grandmother, mother, father, brother, sister, son, nephew and niece, Jill Twist, who graduates tomorrow - I drink a toast - with our Brain Brew whiskey - I drink to the college of our hearts always.

Send your ideas & advice to DougHall@DougHall.com 



Driving Eureka! Book Excerpt
Small Steps Build Courage

Small Steps Build Courage: A key component of PDSA is to embrace small steps with each learning cycle. It almost doesn’t matter how big the steps are. What’s most important is that they be completed with documentation and discipline. Personally I prefer that teams execute 10 small learning cycles quickly versus three big ones slowly. That’s because with each PDSA cycle learning, courage and confidence grow. In Japan this is a way of working and living called Kaizen or improvement. As Robert Maurer, PhD writes in  One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way:

“All changes, even positive ones, are scary. Attempts to reach goals through radical or revolutionary means often fail because they heighten fear. But the small steps of Kaizen disarm the brain’s fear response, stimulating rational thought.”

PDSA is not a justification for sloppy work. It’s not about “throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks.” It’s not a random walk of experimentation with low-cost activities. “Plan, Do, Study, Act” is a disciplined system of learning that enables great things. It is, as Dr. Deming defined it, a Theory of Knowledge. It’s how real learning happens.



Hot Toddy


Brain Brew Whisk(e)y Academy:
The Wonder of Failure  

Recently I attended the American Distilling Institute conference in Denver. I spoke with those who have been successful at creating a distillery and those who are at the start of the journey. 

Those that have been successful are comfortable discussing their failures. They understand that failure is a part of the journey. They actually become animated telling of epic failures. One distiller told me the story of a small fire in his distillery.  He spoke of what a disaster it was. Then he told me how after cleaning it up - he discovered an amazing new whiskey had been created - one that won top honors.  He then laughed and explained the challenge of recreating it without having to create so much damage.

If you don't want to fail - don’t create your own distillery or small business. It’s all part of the journey.  And frankly - it’s what makes it all so much fun.   

Arctic explorer and educator, Paul Schurke, told me when I asked him why he traveled to the North Pole he responded with, “because it feels so good when you stop.” Creating a distillery or business or pursuing a wicked cool innovation is similar. It feels so good when you get through the journey of failures - that you can barely wait to do it again!

The cocktail this week is one that has eluded me for sometime. I’ve made many, many bad ones. The substitution of maple syrup for honey or simple syrup makes this magical.

Vermont Toddy 


3/4 oz Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Maple Syrup
1.5 oz Relativity Whiskey
3 oz Boiling Water


Step 1: Add all ingredients to your favorite mug.
Step 2: Stir.
Step 3: Drink warm.



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Doug Hall

The Driving Eureka! Newsletter is a compilation of case studies, new techniques, thought provoking insights, an occasional rant, and excerpts from my books 



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