The fruits of our mistakes
In the 1960s, an executive at IBM made a decision that ended up losing the company $10 million (about $90 million in 2012). The CEO of IBM, Tom Watson, summoned the offending executive to his office. As the executive cowered, Watson asked, “Do you know why I’ve asked you here?” The man replied, “I assume I’m here so you can fire me.” Watson looked surprised. “Fire you?” he asked. “Of course not. I just spent $10 million dollars educating you.”
Mistakes are often acceptable, even important, enabling learning and growth – but not always. Management guru Marcus Buckingham suggests three major types of adult learners: 1) analyzers, think through a task carefully, valuing lots of classroom time for advance planning prior to execution; 2) doers, jump right in, engaging in trial and error; and 3) watchers, who learn best when they see the whole picture. Unlike doers and watchers, analyzers hate mistakes because they reveal failed planning, preparation, or design.
The other instance when mistakes hurt, is when they go undetected. This is when analyzers, retracing last year’s steps, help unearth neglected missteps. Anticipating the arrival of Yom Kippur, we also devote considerable time as watchers, reflecting on the big picture of how our lives are taking shape. But the key to this season’s success is our learning as doers.
Interestingly, there is an angelic prayer that we watch, do, and then analyze every morning at services. The angels are depicted as praising God with the words: “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh” “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, whose glory fills the world (Isaiah 6:3).” Early on, we envision celestial praise. During the Kedusha, the summit of standing Amidah prayer, we enact the praise ourselves. Finally, we analyze the meaning of these words through traditional study in Aramaic.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written, “We become holy when we become subjects, not objects.” Perhaps the threefold repetition of ‘Holy’ hints at three ways we learn to become subjects, living the way of the holy.
In the bible, angels are messengers. In the prayer book, angels are role models. In life, angels are what we can become for someone else in need of love, loyalty, or generosity. In this season of personal renewal, as we analyze biblical angels, and we glimpse angelic devotion, may we seek to live angelic moments renewing lost faith and recovering lapsed friendships in the year to come.
A sweet Shabbat and Shana to you.
Rabbi William Hamilton