The power of failure

There are a million great quotes about failure from Edison and alike so I am going to try and avoid these here.

Things go wrong, ideas that look great on paper turn out to be pretty rubbish in reality, the numbers often don’t add up and unforseen factors put many an idea / creative / execution / entrepreneur to bed. I have seen my share of failures, I have taken jobs I was no good at, I have missed targets, I have employed strategies that have gone wrong and so on… So here is what I have learned about failure:

  • Be honest about it, don’t try and hide it from your boss or client, flag it quickly and present learnings or (if possible) a fix. Please don’t try to present it as a success anyway and clutch at straws, if something isn’t working accept it and move on
  • Learn from it, failing is hard to take and sometimes it is taken personally, I still do, but get over it. Everyone fails, it is just another part of life. So what have you learned? – That’s what’s important!
  • Learn not to care, when I used to do door-to-door insurance

    Courtesy of lighthousefriends.com

    sales I failed a lot, I knocked on 300 doors a day, and if 295 said no to me or slammed the door in my face that was a good day! – This can be hard to take, particularly as a teenager (I was at the time) working on commission only! So my boss sent me out to collect “No’s” – Go out and fail, get people to say no to me, he told me he wanted me to talk to 100 people and get 100 “No’s” as quick as I could, I did it, I came back, he said “that wasn’t so bad was it, now go find me some people who say yes” – The paradigm shift is odd at first but once made you suddenly stop taking failure personally, it is just a thing

  • Keep experimenting, Once you appreciate failure as just a thing, then you can start to see it’s value, failing is an insight, if we fail we know that strategy, product, idea, doesn’t work – we accept that and we reallocate our remaining resources to other strategies that do – don’t let failure stop you experimenting! Don’t let it make you play safe
  • Don’t get married to your position, this is a really important one, the more invested you are in an idea the harder it is to accept it doesn’t work, people often feel personally invested in their positions, ideas, creatives etc. and as such they take the failure of that position as a personal failure, mostly as they have staked personal credence in it with their bosses, colleagues, friends etc. – That is a mistake. I once read about 2 investors who used to play tennis together once a month, one month they both discussed the market after the match and one investor told the other he was convinced the price of a commodity was going to fall significantly and had put a lot of money on it, the other investor disagreed and an argument went on for a while. Next month they met again, the commodity value had gone up hugely so the correct investor was slightly worried for his friend, but when they met he discovered his friend was in buoyant mood, on inquiring why he discovered his friend had changed his position following their argument and made a lot of money! – There is a man who is not married to a position. You have to be open to change and ready to admit when you are wrong or your idea hasn’t worked it’s not personal!
  • Most important: Fail fast, if an idea isn’t working and clearly isn’t working act quickly and decisively. This isn’t easy the “it will pick up” and “we can fix this” attitudes are tempting but only lead to you ending up married to your position and sinking further. If it is broke, fix it!
The thing is this: The more you fail the more you succeed, I haven’t exactly done this scientifically but I would bet there is a strong correlation between frequency of failure and level of success. Many millionaires tell stories of repeated disasters they laugh off on their super yachts! And many award winning marketing agencies have more than a few #fails hiding behind that sparkling award on the front desk. This is no bad thing, think about my door-to-door sales story again: If I was afraid of failing and so knocked fewer doors I would be less likely to find the guy who said yes and make me my sale just as I would be less likely to find the people who would say no.
To sum up: Experiment, fail fast, learn, grow, succeed, fail again, repeat…
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