There’s scarcely a comment on any subject at present that doesn’t reflect or centre on economic meltdown. If you read an article on cookery you’ll find them pointing out that a slowing economy is turning the great unwashed away from restaurants and back to their own kitchens. ‘Recession Busting Ingredients’ are a common feature and the ‘How to feed a family on thin air and a half pound of mince’ titles are rampant. It has also taken over the gardening slots with the experts encouraging us to grow our own, not just for the environment or the pleasure but because ‘it’s cheaper in these days of fashionable penny pinching’. The fashion magazines are falling over themselves to do ‘Shoes on a Shoestring’ or ‘Bling on a Budget’ pieces. The failing economy is reflected everywhere and not just on the business pages.

The word of the year appears to be ‘bailout’ and the remarkable thing is the rate of the meltdown. We shouldn’t be that surprised though, the cracks appeared ages ago but were ignored and now the wall is coming down in gigantic lumps rather than little puffs of dust and debris that we nonchalantly shook off and ignored up until recently. I suppose the bad news is that we are not at the bottom yet, but the good news is that once we hit it, (and it has to be soon at this rate) the only way is up once we catch our breath and dust ourselves off. The route back will not be easy but we may look back on this time as a blessing rather than the curse that it is being hailed as currently.

One of the mindsets that will hopefully be eradicated is that old and outdated Irish attitude that failure is a bad thing. In Ireland failure, and particularly failure in business, is something that you should be ashamed of. It may never have been said out loud but it was always inferred. We said the word in hushed tones and always used it negatively; ‘failed marriage’, ‘failed his finals’, ‘his business failed; lost everything’. We were raised with the idea that you had to get it right first time and that the only thing you were really allowed to fail was the driving test. (Of course that was different. Nobody ever actually failed a driving test in Ireland. We said it was just a way of them getting more revenue by making us sit it a second time. Anyway a failed driving test in the past had no consequences. If you failed you just got back into the car at the test centre and off you went.) Failure in anything else though was something to hang your head about.

US attitude is correct one

While I think every country should enjoy and encourage its own indigenous culture there are times when other places are doing certain things in a better way and we should take note. America has always had the right attitude to failure. In the States it is almost expected that you fail the first time out. If you read any of the business guru authors they constantly recite the mantra that you learn more from failures than you will from success. Indeed as long as you learn from it, then it has been worth it. In America they never mind you falling down as long as you get back up again. It’s only when you remain on the ground that you are considered a loser. One of my favourite business anecdotes is that of Thomas Watson Jr. He was president of IBM from 1952 to 1971 and while listed as one of the most influential people of the 20th Century he was also considered to be a ferocious character. There is a story about an IBM employee in the early 1960s that was running a division of IBM that lost 10 million dollars! Watson called him in to headquarters. The man walked into Watson’s office weak-kneed and Watson said, “Do you know why I called you here?” He said, “I assume you called me here to fire me.” Watson said, “Fire you? Hell, I just spent 10 million dollars educating you. I just wanted to be sure you learned the right lessons.”

We, on the other hand, have always approached it differently. We happily move from falling down to loser in one move without allowing any steps in between. In the past we also assumed that some were just gifted and blessed at business while others just couldn’t cut it. What has emerged is that some were just gifted at cheating while some just failed honestly. It’s easy to be successful when you cheat. I occasionally cheat at the gym; pretending to do more than I actually am; delaying with shoelace problems, repositioning the towel or drinking water while all the time letting the clock run on. At the end of my workout anyone looking at the machine would think I had done a 50 minute run when I really only did about 30. Now the only person I’m cheating is me, but the principle is the same. “How much exercise did you take Nichola?” I could say, “Ohhh about an hour every day this week according to the clock on the treadmill.” “Then you must be quite fit”. “Yes”, I would say, while knowing I was a fraud and that it’s very easy to sound fit when you cheat.

Life lesson on the way up

This current recession might humble us all. Maybe we might consider failed businesses as learning curves for those involved and help and encourage them to get back up and try again. With such an attitude we might even see people detaching themselves from their businesses to the point that failure or closures do not end up in drastic action like ruined confidence, self harm or the ultimate horror, suicide. To quote from an old popular Sesame Street song, “A baliff is a person in your neighbourhood”. ‘Baliff’ a word that sends shivers down the spine is just a person doing a job albeit a rotten one but someone has to. They are not there to judge you they just want to collect the money or take some stuff in lieu of the debt. Pay up or let them have your stuff but don’t consider it a massive failure or something to take drastic action about. If it happens to you or someone you know of course it will sting a little, but you’re your still here and that’s all that really matters. Failing honourably is alright; it is simply a life lesson while cheating your way to the top becomes a lifestyle and a hollow, soul less one at that.