Teaching business people to try new things is an important part of my work. Systems are important, but systems can be limiting. We need to strike a good balance between having processes and procedures, and letting our teams (and ourselves) push beyond our comfort zones. If we approach all situations with the same point of view and actions, we will get the same results.
Fresh actions lead to new outcomes. However, sometimes when you try something new, you fail. It is okay. It is part of the journey.
I have interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs and asked them about their achievements. The most successful seem to be fairly open about their mistakes along the way. These high achievers give credit to their failures as how they got to the next level. They do not run and hide. In examining ourselves and finding the shortcomings, we become more powerful in our next project.
Recently I went for something new in my business. I will not spell out the details in this post, but it involved auditioning to partner with a group, and I was not a match. Not a total failure, as there were two parts to the effort and one was nearly a perfect score. The second, well, not so much. It involved being a partner with a business training organization. They basically do not pay speakers much beyond expenses, but I am a fan of the group and wanted to be affiliated with them for several reasons. The average score of these two free talks eliminated me from their program. While disappointing, it was the reality. I do not believe in pointing fingers or re-writing the story in my head to protect my ego.
It didn’t work out how I wanted. Ego slapped.
If this happened to a CEO of a company I was consulting with, I would tell them this is a good thing. We all need a good awakening to the realities of life. Nobody is perfect, and those who hide all their failures scare me anyway. I would rather have some bruises, as it is the realities of being an entrepreneur. In over 900 presentations, and working with hundreds of clients, there have been very few things that did not go well. Sadly this small training class was made up of people who did not connect with my message or style. It’s okay, as I got an email the next day from someone from a different audiences who said I saved their job. While the same message the other group loved, they did not.
That being said, failure is a great learning tool if we embrace it as such. Too many people run from their screw ups and that is why they repeat them. For me, I have found a way to fun successes and failure though a ten point check list (before and after taking actions). This helps me see if I am aligned with whatever project I am undertaking, and to assess what I could have done differently. Plus, I often speak to large audiences, and if I am going to have a talk not connect, it is much better that it happened in a room of ten (keynoting and leading a workshop are two different skills, and I have done hundreds of both types of talks. Small workshops are difficult).
Six Point Check List To Measure Failure after Trying Something New
- Talk Ownership of Your Life. The most successful people I know do not blame others for their failure. The own their mistakes and look for ways to learn from them. In this case I did not succeed at a project and did not understand the people in that particular room (something I am usually very good at). I asked questions in advance, but clearly not enough. I did not customize enough of the framework and assumed the 2nd group was like the first, and did not make their egos the priority. I kept a good attitude in my post project conversations and did not point any fingers. No excuses.
- Connect With People. After a failure many hide their head or walk away entirely from those involved. In this case I have reached out to many people, both those directly involved and who I had counseled along the way. I let them know the situation, and was upbeat, but sought advice. I listened to their feedback and sought ways to stay in touch in the future. People bring opportunities, and even when you mess up, many still want to help you succeed.
- Accept that “Stuff Happens”. We cannot control all situations and we cannot make everyone want to do business with us. When we realize that a lost opportunity is not the end of the game, we are able to grow and learn. We become more self aware and better suited to serve other clients.
- Ask for Help. In dealing with the unexpected stumble, I asked others for advice and help. There were several ideas on how I should deal with the situation, but I am not one to ask for special rules. Their rules are what they are. But the amount of people who wanted to jump in and assist me made me feel great.
- Be Aggressive with Gratitude. In success or failure, not enough people properly thank the people who open doors for them to succeed. I say you have to find ways to make sure people feel appreciated. Its more than a text that reads “THX”. I will be looking for creative ways to say “Thanks” to those who were there for me throughout the project.
- Believe in Yourself. Do not let a mistake or failure define you. Many quit after a bad experience, but the most successful double down and rediscover what motivated them in the first place. For me, I realized in retrospect that this organization may not have been the right fit for me and my greatest service is to a different demographic and my attention should be placed where it matters the most.
What did I learn from this unfortunate situation? That being very clear upfront as to who I am and what I really want would have spared me the time and effort invested in this project. Also, if you think you are great at your job, you probably are. But that does not mean you will not have stumbles. Be honest and gracious. Then work like hell to learn from the situation. I learned things from this on many levels. It has made me a better speaker. It has made me a better partner for joint venture related efforts. It made me realize that all people have their own opinions and they are right to them. Yet, the negative opinion of some folks you will never see again should not paint your self worth.
When you fail (and if you are honest, sometimes you fail), recognize it is just part of the journey.
I have talked to thousands of entrepreneurs, and those who hide their failures scare me. In order to succeed we have to shake it up and try new things. In being ready to do that, you have to accept that it may not go smoothly. I am oddly at peace with this story. It feels it happened for a reason. The focus it gave me has already produced a win or two, and that is awesome.