What Would You Do If Failure Wasn’t An Option?

Written by Duncan Lowe

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 6.54.18 AMAll eyes were on Joe Kowalke, our senior account manager, as he stood in front of a semi-circle of Double Forte employees. “What would you do if failure wasn’t an option?” he said, repeating the question twice to emphasize its gravity.

Every Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. Double Forte ends our internal staff meeting with a Rally Cry. The format is simple. One person poses a question and each staff member has a few minutes to respond. It’s an opportunity to connect with the people we work with on a daily basis. Until recently I had no idea that Brian listens to Arabic music when he needs to focus or that Emily appeared in a Bloomingdale’s Christmas catalogue.

The majority of our Rally Cry’s are light hearted and playful – highlighting personal tastes and opinions. What’s your favorite part of fall? Favorite weekend activity? Best place to watch fireworks for July 4th? But today Joe had steered the office in a different direction. He’s a smart dude and has a knack for asking insightful questions: “What would you do if failure wasn’t an option?”

At first the room went quiet – bypassing fear is a personal subject. But one by one, people began to share their ambitions and long term goals. “I want to open and run my own winery,” said Melanie. “I want to travel and write about the different cultures I encounter.” said someone else. “I’d love to do PR for an ice cream brand.”

We discussed side projects that we wanted to bring to life and dream clients that complimented our personal lifestyles. But even though Joe had assured us that failure wasn’t an option, there were still hints of self doubt. The majority of answers ended with: But I don’t have the time. But I don’t have the resources. But I don’t have any connections at that company. Basically, we hadn’t totally accepted Joe’s premise and were still quite afraid of failing.

Suddenly it was Lee Caraher’s turn. Our CEO and fearless leader told us that she had always dreamed of running her own business. Although failure certainly was an option, she had forged ahead. “And look around you,” she continued. “Here we are. So if you know a business that you dream of working with or need to find time to write your first novel, come talk to me. We’ll work something out. We want to support your goals and ambitions in whatever way possible.” Our staff stood in contemplative silence, suddenly considering how accessible “pipe-dreams” could be. Daunting sure, but definitely possible with the support and encouragement of our colleagues and CEO.

After the meeting I thought about Lee’s declaration of support. And it began to make a lot of sense. In fact, there’s been some recent media attention about Facebook’s Co-Founder, Dustin Moskovitz, article on Medium.com in which he criticized the relentless and exhaustive work environment that’s prevalent at many top tech companies. His main criticism? That a back-breaking, stress-inducing work environment is clearly not sustainable in the long term: “Fundamentally, this is a familiar part of tech culture: at high performing companies, employees work extremely hard, to an extent that is unsustainable for most people. But it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Double Forte works hard. Believe me – ask any of our clients. But unlike many businesses that are set up to squeeze productivity out of people like juicing an orange, Double Forte is a place that encourages a healthy work-life balance and supports the passions and interests of its employees. As a result, its employees take pride in producing the highest quality work, allowing the business to flourish.

So when our CEO told us that Double Forte supported our aspirations and goals, we all genuinely believed her. And for the rest of the day, our staff was instilled with a feeling of invincibility. I spent my lunch break wolfing down a burrito while also jotting down notes for a potential blog post and later researched a company I’ve always wanted to pitch. And personally, I think Joe’s exercise of imagining “what you would you do if fear wasn’t an option” is extremely valuable because you never know, it may become a reality.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 6.54.40 AMMeet Duncan Lowe

  • What’s your favorite thing to do in San Francisco? It’s a tie between eating breakfast at The Bean Bag Café on Divisadero Street and surfing at Ocean Beach after work. Ideally, I accomplish both in the same day.
  • What artist/song is currently on repeat on your iPhone? I can be a music snob sometimes so I wanted to dislike the new Weekend song, “Can’t Feel My Face.” But I love it. It’s so catchy.
  • If you were stranded on an island, what is one thing you can’t live without? Music. While searching the island for coconuts and fresh water, I would need access to my Spotify playlists. Can’t live without them!