In the corporate world, there's a notion that getting fired is a good learning experience. That happened to me early in my working life, after I had served a party of 10 and realized, upon handing an order of broiled sea bass to the 10th customer, that it should have been a stuffed sole. Now if the person who had erroneously received the stuffed sole hadn't already (rudely) consumed the whole thing, I could simply have made the switch with a "so sorry" and a complimentary glass of wine. Instead, voices grew loud, faces got red, and hands flew up in disgust. At 11 p.m., after the last angry customer had peeled out of the parking lot, the owner of the restaurant took me into his office and gave me the boot. What's my point? That none of this would have happened if I had been employed by Danny Meyer, owner of some of New York City's best restaurants and the author of our first Guest Speaker column. He writes about a management technique he calls constant, gentle pressure.
On the learning scale, getting canned hardly compares with losing or almost losing a business. Two of our features this month tell the stories of failure reborn into success. One is about Gary Heavin, whose personal turnaround took him from bankruptcy to a billion-dollar business, the women's fitness juggernaut Curves. The other is about Bob Jones and his family farm, which nearly went under growing cabbage for the masses and now thrives by producing the tiniest lettuce leaves, the sweetest heirloom tomatoes, and the loveliest edible flowers for some of America's pickiest chefs.
When I look back on my days as a waitress, it's not surprising that I left the service sector and sought work in an office with a door. What's surprising, and inspirational, is people like Gary Heavin and Bob Jones, who fail doing what they love best--and then succeed enormously by doing the same. Their stories are learning experiences for us all.