Winners and Learners

Failure. It’s one thing pretty much everyone is afraid of, right? When I talk to budding entrepreneurs, staff, and even my kids, it definitely ranks as the number one reason they are reluctant to even attempt new challenges. After all, if you are likely to fail, why bother? However, I’m proud to say I’ve mastered the art of failing – after all, in my eyes, failing is learning!

When I had my startup business, ‘E-Tale’, I was always really keen to push my team to fail at things, and for them to be comfortable doing so. This may sound somewhat counter productive, but I hold fast to my opinion that if we always win, then we are not pushing ourselves sufficiently.

Fear of failure in business encourages people to:

  1. Set low standards: Winning too regularly means that we are not setting our sights high enough. Employing punitive measures when employees do not hit goals simply encourages staff to set lower standards that they are confident they will be able to achieve. This ultimately means that while they may be hitting their ‘goals’, they are not reaching their full potential.
  1. Over think small tasks: If you punish people for making minor errors, then don’t be surprised if even the most basic email takes an hour to be drafted. In addition, the overthinking of the ‘Format’ of an email will often mean the intention of the email is lost. Considering the ‘bigger picture’ can help to drive towards the end goals. 
  1. Get ‘Buy In’ as a way to cover their ass!: About two years into E-Tale, I began refusing to check over my staff’s client emails, customer complaints, and even proposals. Why? Well firstly, I had my own emails and proposals to get on with. However, the main reason was to encourage my employees to be wholly accountable for their own efforts. Knowing that this was their gig, and there was no ‘safety net’ made sure that they took appropriate extra care. Conversely, knowing their senior manager would have the final glance would have meant them relying on me to identify and correct any errors. A fresh pair of eyes can be a useful tool, but can quickly become a blame-sharing strategy if the outcome of the email or proposal is less than favorable.

Failure makes you human. Why not also take this honest and frank approach with clients? Persuading them you will never make a mistake is nowhere near as valuable as proving your problem-solving skills, tenacity and ability to deal with business issues as they arise. Genuine connection requires you to be just that – genuine. Nine times out of ten, honesty will win the client over regardless, so giving that human and personable approach may actually help your business.

You also need to remember that ‘failing’ is not the same as ‘failed’. To have failed requires you to have given up. Michael Jordon said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

While this is a little ‘cheesy’ and possibly quite trite, I always tell my kids that there are only winners and learners. So try to focus on what you have learned when you don’t get the result that you were after. This is especially valuable if you fail to land a client contract. Contacting the client and asking to meet in person to ask why you were not successful this time is a great way to get genuine feedback on your approach or product. Just don’t go with the goal of winning the client back. Again, your genuine and focused interest on their constructive criticism will mean you can learn and move forward.

So why don’t you give failing a go once in a while? You never know what success it may bring!

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