Treat Failures Like Success – Part I
As we all know, a lot of new small businesses fail each year. In most of those cases, the small business owners were probably convinced that their idea for a business was a perfect match for their skills, and in many cases, they were wrong. You can learn from their errors and avoid the mistakes they made. You can learn from my errors, and the mistakes that I have made over the past two decades. In fact, there are some common mistakes that many failed small businesses make. I have had to learn from my own experiences on successes as well as failures.
Think about it for a minute…every business has had failures. Even something as simple as changing a color in your logo can be considered a failure…because something else replaced it. Which leads into a brief discussion on the success that can come from failure.
Behind every successful person is a legacy of past failures. Consider Abraham Lincoln who suffered defeat in four elections before being voted in as President. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times on his way to hitting 714 homers. He also hit a record 60 home runs in the 1927 season. Then, there is Tom Monaghan who failed in business twice before launching Domino’s Pizza.
Failure hurts, traumatizes and can even destroy one’s ego, but it also challenges, motivates and humbles people…cutting right through the false impression that success is easy to obtain.
Avis Rent a Car founder, Warren Avis, gives a little advice about failure. This comes after years of business experience.
- There is no such thing as the perfect deal. Look for what is wrong with it.
- Despite popular opinion to the contrary, the first solution to a problem is usually not the best. Force yourself to list at least four other solutions…because 80 percent of the time one of them will be better than your original solution.
- If properly put together, groups make better decisions than individuals. Take advantage of the talents others possess…especially the oddball who sees things a little differently.
- Expect the unexpected—more often than not, it happens. Be prepared for the worst.
- Never say never.
Source: Entrepreneur Press
Many entrepreneurs believe that failure is essential to long-term success. “The more you fail the more you succeed,” maintains Karl Mason, author of Using Intelligent Fast Failure.
Go and get a copy of Mason’s book and read through it. It has some excellent advice on learning how to fail fast and get to your end goal. To help you with one of his concepts, he suggests that we develop “intelligent failure”—the type that Mason says forms building blocks to success–the first step is to get over the fear of failure. We are constantly dealing with failure. If you find something not working, you try something else…that means the first thing has failed. Or, that there is something better and you need to find out what it is.
Jobseekers line up dozens of interviews because they know most of them will result in rejection. Sales people call on dozens of people because they know most of them will say no. Inventors know they will fail many times over before they come upon the magic formula that will eventually work.
Mason coined the term STRAFFING…Success Through Rapid Accelerated Failure. He suggests that entrepreneurs put together many ideas and try them out quickly to see which ones work. In other words, try out many ideas at the same time. This greatly accelerates the learning process and compresses failure time, allowing you to progress more rapidly toward a solution. Each idea will possess some positive elements that will combine with other positive elements of things/ideas discarded—to form a new solution.
It’s no secret that creativity is crucial to the success of any venture. Business owners need to constantly address new ideas and develop new ways of looking at problems or situations. This was made evident at a conference on failure at the University of Michigan. Participants were asked to build the tallest structure they could, using only notched ice cream sticks. The results offered some insight into different ways of learning from failure:
- Some participants persisted in building the same type of structure despite repeated collapses, while other participants altered their designs, trying out different approaches. Typically, people who tried different options were able to build higher structures.
- Some participants peeked at what others were building and borrowed (or stole) their ideas. This can be great way to leapfrog technology. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel every time.
- Other people worked in groups to pool resources. Just a winning team, a group can capitalize on each other’s ideas and share in the success (or the blame if the venture is a flop).
The key is learning from our errors as we go so that small failures do not become big ones. To learn from experience, including past mistakes, we need accurate perceptions and honest self-appraisal. While denial may heal the wounds failure inflicts on our egos, the successful entrepreneur spends quite a bit of time analyzing his or her mistakes and finding innovative ways to profit from them.
Put things in the best possible perspective and learn the most useful lesson possible. Work quickly to get out from under your failures and into your best frame of mind. This is where problems yield solutions.
You will find yourself often wondering why you decided to take on being an entrepreneur. You will experience setbacks…it is part of life…moving on is the key. Ask yourself “What is the lesson in this setback?” Be honest with yourself. And then ask, “Where is the opportunity?” Find the opportunity. Think it through, and come up with a solution.
Don’t beat yourself up emotionally about setbacks or the past; use them to change the future. As an entrepreneur you will need to have (or develop) a high sense of tolerance to failure. It is inevitable that you will fail at something…even multiple things. Learn from it and move on.
Sometimes an attitude adjustment is needed in dealing with stress and pressures. Bad things happen to good people, but often there is a big difference in reality and your perception of it. When tense moments creep into your life, ask yourself, “Is this really a crisis, or am I making a mountain out of a molehill?”
Think about this…reality must be balanced with a courageous sense of vision and perseverance.
For those who listen, setbacks are good teachers. (If you don’t listen you are doomed to experience the real definition of insanity…doing the same thing over and over and over, and expecting a different result.) Mix it up a bit. Try something a little different. Thomas Edison failed over a thousand times before he invented the light bulb. He kept trying something a little different each time. Besides honing your business skills, setbacks can also develop an inner resiliency.
Those who fail are more likely to see the bigger picture, take the lesson to be learned from the failure and try to incorporate those lessons into their daily life in business as well as personally. As a result, these individuals are less likely to be disturbed by daily pressures. They quickly learn not to sweat the small stuff, but to focus their energy and talents on solving the bigger problems.
Do entrepreneurs learn more from setbacks than from successes? One entrepreneur has figured out an important element of success and failure: “Success is a reward for hard work—not a teacher. It is the hard lessons that I learned along the way that led to my success.”
Have you seen the inspiring commercial that Michael Jordan did for Nike? It’s the one where he talks about all of his mistakes, such as the free throws and game-deciding shots that he’s missed over the years. I love that commercial for its right attitude about failure, but I’m even more impressed with it after seeing a follow-up interview with Jordan.
A reporter asked Michael Jordan if the statistics that he quoted in the commercial were correct. Jordan’s response? “I don’t know.”
Now that answer surprised me at first, until I realized its significance: Michael Jordan is so unconcerned with failure that he truly has no idea how many shots he’s missed in his career or how many games have been lost because of his mistakes. He simply took the word of the statisticians at Nike for those numbers.
Like Jordan, we all fail. Success isn’t based on “avoiding” failure, but on “facing” it correctly. William A. Ward said, “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead-end street.”
Successful leaders don’t avoid failure. They “handle” it –successfully. If you spend much time worrying about failure, you, too, increase your chances of taking a fall.
From my book The Entrepreneurs Game Plan