I was visiting with a seed scientist once, and I opened the conversation with a simple “So, how was your week?”
“Oh, Alan,” Dr. Kim said. “I worked on the Acme project this week. And I learned a lot. There were a lot of mistakes, so we learned a lot. It was a week of research and development.”
“Great!” I replied. “Sounds like a good week.”
“Oh no, Alan,” he scolded. “I work in production. Research and development is across the street. Our lab isn’t supposed to do the learning. It was a bad week.”
Yes, Dr. Kim had a bad week. In fact, his days were numbered in that lab. He wasn’t a very good employee, and was gone soon after. And that’s relevant, but hold that thought for now.
We’ve all heard “learn from your mistakes”. I’ve written about “your space program“. You’ve heard “Edison didn’t fail 10,000 times, he found 10,000 ways that didn’t work! Rah rah!”
And those work okay for me, but Dr. Kim gave me a revelation.
Even when you don’t produce, you’re still doing research and development.
Since that day, every time something doesn’t quite work out for me, I call it “research and development” and find peace with it.
The shortcut from the building to the parking lot looked good on Google Maps, but there was a massive hedge in the way and we had to walk the long way around. 20 minutes wasted? Nope – research and development – now I really know the fastest way.
The carefully scheduled follow-up video conferences didn’t go off at the right time, and the people on the other end had audio trouble. The concept failed? Nope – research and development – need flexibility and a checklist on both ends.
Big or small, setbacks are now “research and development”, thanks to Dr. Kim.
Oh, I mentioned that Dr. Kim wasn’t a great team member? Why is that relevant? Because – I learned something mind-altering from him. My favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quote:
Shall I tell you the secret of the true scholar?
It is this: Every [one] I meet is my master
in some point, and in that I learn.
So – learn from everyone you meet, and look at setbacks as research and development.