When we survive major failure, we come out changed and our true character is fused into what we're going to be, said Adam Savage, the final keynote speaker at the College of Healthcare Information Technology Executives 2012 Fall CIO Forum.
Savage is a self-professed skeptic and self-described “obsessive maker of things,” as well as host of the Discovery Channel series “MythBusters,” now in its 10th season.
His presentation ended with a highlight reel of explosions, but perhaps even more significantly, Savage preceded it by telling the story about his own cathartic moment that came after a week of sleeplessness and ultimate failure as a teenager, helping a friend in film school in New York.
Out of hubris, he accepted a job as art director for a friend shooting a film. The film was a success and won several rewards, which led to another friend, Gabby, who was directing someone else's senior film on an $800 budget. She asked Savage to again serve as art director.
“I was 19 years old and it was absolutely no problem at all,” Savage said. Because of his lack of experience, however, this time, many of things he touched, which involved building a set that included a real-looking ATM, set off a cascade of failures that chewed up the allotted three weeks for set construction, leaving less than a week.
“I looked up and it was Tuesday, and I had to have this set ready to film on by Friday,” Savage said. “My solution to getting the work done was to stop sleeping. I started working around the clock to finish this ATM machine and one mistake yielded another. Friday, the crew arrives, expecting to find me with a complete set to film on.
“What they found was a sweaty me,” but still hoping to pull it off, he said. “I start directing people and it goes up.” But, pretty soon, he said, “my lack of sleep began to be telling. Two hours into it, a cameraman turned to me and said, 'Do you even know what you are doing?'
“He put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, 'Go home.'”
Days later, his friend Gabby, for whom he'd harbored romantic feelings, called him to account for the budget and his failure.
“She said, “What did you do to me? I can't even tell you, if you could have done anything more to prove to me not to be your friend, you couldn't have done it.' ”
“I never felt so bad,” Savage said.
But what followed was even worse—being invited into the room next door where the entire crew, who had pulled two all-nighters to get the set ready, was waiting.
Savage said he was so low at that point he would have welcomed the beating that he half-expected would be coming.
“I knocked on the door and they said, come in and there were 25 guys around the room. There is a chair in the room and a spotlight on the chair. I sit in the chair and the director pulls out a pad and goes through every single thing I said I was going to do that I didn't achieve. The crew is actually piping in with some things. They're getting their catharsis out on me by going down this list. At the end, the director says, 'Do you have anything you'd like to say?'
“What they didn't know about me was my dad was a manic depressive. You really learn to take a lot. This director's list, I've been exposed to lists like this a lot. I say, 'Look, you haven't missed a thing.' ”
And, Savage said, he apologized, several times.
“There is this long, pause, and the director says, 'Look, we're not trying to bring you down.'
“They blinked first,” Savage said, but he said he still felt terrible, and so he called his father for advice.
“The end of the story is the real change that happened; that's where my personality buckled into a new shape,” Savage said.
“You've done wrong,” he recalled his father saying, “But it doesn't define you. What defines you is what do you do with that information and choose to learn from that and move forward.”
Savage said, “That is one of the most refreshing things I had ever heard in my life. While it didn't lessen the pain that I caused, it was one of the first steps that caused me to grow up.”
Earlier, in a plenary session before the final keynote and the conference closed its three-day run Friday, the CHIME Foundation presented former CHIME board chairman John Glaser with its lifetime achievement award. Glaser currently is CEO of global healthcare IT business for Siemens Healthcare. He previously served as CIO of the 12-hospital Partners Healthcare System, Boston. At the same awards ceremony, Edward Martinez, senior vice president and CIO for Miami Children's Hospital, was named winner of CHIME's innovator of the year award, while Edward Marx, senior vice president and CEO at Texas Health Resources, Arlington; and Randy McCleese, vice president of information services and CIO at St. Claire Regional Medical Center, Morehead, Ky., were named CHIME esteemed fellows. More Live@CHIME Coverage