The Florence Rule of Five or Pecha Kucha teaches failure (or something)

December 11, 2012

I recently participated in a Pecha Kucha as part of the Wright Design Series hosted by the Southwest Chapter of AIA Wisconsin. If you are not familiar with Pecha Kucha, it draws its name from the Japanese term for the sound of "chit chat” and is a presentation style with two simple rules: you present 20 images and speak for 20 seconds each. Pecha Kucha keeps presentations concise and moving at a rapid pace. Doing one was great for a couple of reasons. One, it is always fun to be included in a “thing” put on by the creative community. It makes me feel all artsy. The opportunity to pontificate on something one is passionate about — to an interested (read: trapped) audience, no less — is also a real treat.

But it was also hard. How do you talk about yourself without sounding like an arrogant bore? Not to mention the format: twenty seconds is either not enough time or an eternity for a single slide. Getting the rhythm right was tough and took more practice than I thought it would.

The theme of the evening was "What Keeps Me Awake at Night & Gets Me Up in the Morning." I spoke about waking up early in the morning to run — a potential eye-roller of a topic since even I find people who boast about all their pre-dawn accomplishments very irritating.

Because a Pecha Kucha is a personal vignette, it is not required to have a big takeaway or lesson. But in putting mine together, I did have one nugget that is worth sharing. I call it the Florence Rule of Five, after my former coach Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover. She imparted the following wisdom to me: for every five runs, one will feel spectacular, three will be decent, and one will be so wretched you’ll feel unworthy of even owning running shoes.

For every five runs, one will feel spectacular, three will be decent, and one will be so wretched you’ll feel unworthy of even owning running shoes.

This rule held basically true for me regardless of fitness, pregnancy, or age. And knowing this rule has offered me quite a bit of comfort. The wretched days don’t devastate me anymore — they’re just part of the deal. If I head out the door in the morning and it’s not going well, I don’t beat myself up; I slog along and try to enjoy the fact that, hey, pressure’s off! Sometimes I don’t even make it around the block before I head home.

But sometimes…I innovate.

Sometimes, on a sucky day, I’ll sprint or jog back and forth in front of my house. Or quickly run a hill 10 times. Or do something other than I would expect to do on a “normal” running day because, essentially, my normal plan for the run has failed.

We have all read about failure being a part of innovation. And we all probably nod our heads, “oh, yes, we support failure” and “of course you will fail.” But we likely underestimate the very personal difficulty of failure. Imagine how hard it was for Thomas Edison to make 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Or for Dr. Seuss to have 27 publishers reject his first manuscript.

Failing is hard. Especially since it is only in hindsight that you can appreciate the lessons failure teaches.

For me, I can pretty much plan on failing once every five days. It’s good practice. When big failures come, I tend to kick off my shoes and wallow a bit. And then set the alarm early and get up to try again.