Never Failing Should Not Mean Never Trying

By Joe Grimm

Recently, a veteran journalist told me how frustrating it is to be qualified and ready to work while constantly encountering a wage ceiling where less experienced workers will gladly work for far less than he can afford.

The next day, I talked with a 40-something journalist who works for an Internet company and is worried. A rearrangement has changed his job. He has lost his high-value responsibilities, and they are being replaced with tasks that pay less.

Their plights reminded me of a lesson from Seth Godin, a marketer and author who has turned his blogs and writing into a dozen books, including “Poke the Box.” That book has been called a manifesto on why workers should take initiative in their jobs even when no one asks them to.

Initiative is the key to ascending in an organization and to jumping into a new one. But we often are afraid to try. This is what Godin said in a YouTube interview with Bryan Elliott of “Behind the Brand”:

“Most of us now live in a world where the kind of failure I’m talking about isn’t fatal at all. . . . If you’re just obsessed with always doing what everyone else is doing because you’re afraid of someone saying ‘you failed,’ then you’re in really big trouble.”

Godin generally talks about entrepreneurship, but he takes this lesson into companies.

“If you have a job with a boss, you need to think about whether your boss is asking you to do a set of tasks, because if your boss is, then they’ll try to find someone cheaper than you, which is not good. Or if your boss is asking you to solve a bunch of problems. Then you have your work cut out for you.”

Godin says we should take risks but be smart about it. “Take appropriate risks. By appropriate risks, I mean risks that keep you in the game even if you fail. Figuring out how you can be in an industry or how you be in a space or how you can try things out.”

Journalism is especially risk-averse. Factual or ethical mistakes end careers, so the best journalists are very careful. They don’t risk making mistakes. But not all risks carry the same degree of danger.

Journalists need to understand that while initiative can be a risk, appropriate initiative can have very little downside and be far less risky than being trapped under glass ceilings or ignoring the writing on the wall.

Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at since 1996. Questions about careers? E-mail Joe for an answer.


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