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In 2013 Ashley Good won the Innovating Innovation Award from the Harvard Business Review and McKinsey and Company.  She did not invent a new technology or new way of using technology; neither did she discover some new principle that governs successful enterprises.  Instead, she was recognized for failure: her own and that of others.

Three years earlier she launched a website called admittingfailure.com.  By her own admission the project failed.  But trying to understand failure was her domain.  Her interest in failure began when she was working for Engineers With Borders, assigned to a United Nations project in Ghana.  When she arrived, her colleagues were all too happy to candidly tell her all the glaring deficiencies in the program and in its management.  But when a U.N. evaluator arrived to make a report, all they would dare mention were minor equipment needs.  Confronting the others with the dissonance between their silence in the presence of the evaluator but their disdain for the program itself, her fellow workings confessed they liked their jobs more than their concern for the success of the program.  Good was prompted to explore the problem, beginning with the question ‘Why was it not safe to be honest?’

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“The whole of anything,” said Henry James, “is never told.”  It is left up to the reader to work through the details of characterization and motivation.  Sometimes the omniscient narrator, argues Professor Meir Sternberg of Tel Aviv University in The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, leaves a prolepse, or significant omission, that piques the reader’s interest and cries out for explanation.

One example is the action – or, better, inaction – of the generation of the Great Flood once the rains begin.  Perhaps not the first day or even the first week but surely at some time during the forty days of rainfall Noah’s neighbors would have thought of building themselves a boat.  But the narrative is silent.  It is up to us to speculate why they did not act.

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The first chapter of the Bible establishes the uniqueness of human beings.  While God creates all creatures and their respective environments, it is the human being who, in Biblical chronology, is the culmination of creation and is thus singled out for dominion over all the other creatures (Genesis 1:28).  According to the Biblical narrative, it is the human being alone who is created in God’s divine image.

Rabbi Akiva (Pirke Avot 3:18) asserts that human beings supersede all the other creatures in two important ways.  First, since the first human being was created in God’s image, setting him apart from all the other creatures, it necessarily makes the human being more beloved to God.  And second, since God informs Noah of the special status of the first human being and his descendants (Genesis 9:6), human beings have an awareness of their status.  This extra fact indicates that God’s love for human beings is exceptional.

Rabbi Akiva does not discuss why God would need to tell human beings of their special status, however. 

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Words to live by

We’re all so busy chasing the extraordinary that we forget to stop and be grateful for the ordinary.

- Professor Brené Brown