Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Turning failure into a lasting memory.

From 1988 to 2001 I was a Course Director for the Professional Association of Scuba Instructors. In other words, I taught folks to how teach diving through the largest scuba training agency in the world.
These programs were run in Ottawa, Toronto (eg Scuba2000) and the Caribbean (eg Kenneth's Dive Centre).

The process to become an assistant instructor or instructor is a very exacting one; candidates learn teaching methodology in the class, pool and open water. After each presentation, they are marked using an international marking criteria that ranks them from a 5 (perfection) to a 1 (a failure).

I believe that the "strength is in the struggle" and that a failure isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as we learn from it.

But back in 1988, I saw the devastated looks on the faces of my candidates when they prepared so diligently for a class or pool presentation and received an "ace" (1) for a goof-up (usually involving a missed objective or a potentially hazardous situation). In an attempt to make light of the situation, I kidded that they had gone to "Aceland", this evolved into a musical takeoff of Paul Simon's song "Graceland" - and further evolved into graduates of the program all receiving "Aceland T-shirts." Each year, I would hand these out, sometimes changing colour and Elvis in scuba-gear graphic. [Please see photo attached and note the red t-shirts] Today, there are hundreds of people around the world who proudly hang on to their Aceland t-shirts.

The shirts denote achievement as well as comradery under adversity. (Interestingly enough, these are the same reasons that veterans value the friendships they made under fire while still bemoaning the waste of war.)

Yesterday, Greg Vaysman, a good guy and former instructor graduate asked if he could revive the Aceland tradition (I haven't taught scuba instructors for 5 years). I was honoured that he would ask and proud that the Aceland concept would live on.

Moral of the story? 10% of life is what happens to you. 90% is how you react to it. If you're a leader in your field, keep your standards high, keep their standards high, but think of ways to make the learning experience a positive one...and it may turn into a tradition of triumph.