Today is the Perfect Day to Fail

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By N.D. Brown

We have all been carefully trained to not fail.  Yet, we all know failing is the best way to learn.

Many businesses are like the Pushmi-Pullyu creature from Doctor Doolittle fame. Pushmi-Pullyu is an example of multitasking.  Facing in opposite directions, Doctor Doolittle’s creation tries to move forward but in order for a Pushmi-Pullyu to move forward one side has to move backward.  In spite of what seemed like a good idea, the Pushmi-Pullyu fails.  It does not move forward; it stands still.

How many companies do that?  Management tries to move in one direction while the rules they have established pull them in another.  They fail and everything stops.

Moss Hart, who was a highly successful American playwright and theater director, said he never learned anything from a hit.  He learned from each flop and he was involved in many.  Today, in spite of his many flops he is thought of as a huge success.

We all know the “Sultan of Swat”, Babe Ruth, hit the baseball 34% of the times he stepped up to the plate.  But how many remember that he also failed getting to his objective 66% of the time.  Okay, a sports analogy, but it makes the point.

Can your business grow if you fail 66% of the time?  The answer is, probably yes.  The answer is, maybe your business should fail even more!

During my career, I’ve made thousands of new business pitches.  My team works for weeks putting together a presentation designed to convince our sought after prospects we were the best choice to help them market what they were trying to sell.  We spend hours doing research and even more hours just plain thinking.  After all that effort, we consider ourselves fortunate if we’re selected 10% of the time!  One out of six presentations might be successful.  We know we’re going to fail 90% of the time and we hate to fail!

Finally, we woke up and realized all of our competitors were doing exactly what we were doing.  Seems incredible that even though we thought we were smart and we knew the odds were against us we got very excited every time we were asked to take that meager chance.  We would file into a conference room and do pretty much what the people before us did and the people after us.  Then one day we didn’t fail.  We used the past failures to learn.

The point!  Failure is a good word.  Failing is a good thing.

I disagree with Mr. Hart because I think we learn from every success as well as every failure but I agree with him that we learn more from the flops.  After a win, we all celebrate or at least we should.  But what do we do when we fail?  What does your company do?  I am betting it is not a moment for popping champagne corks.  It should be.

When I review employees, I want to know about their failures.  I want to know what they learned.  I am always amazed how often that question gets a blank look.  Success takes care of itself; failure requires serious introspection.

When I counsel clients on how to hire a marketing and/or advertising firm, I tell them to insist that the companies show them failed work, the work the agency wished they hadn’t done.  Then ask them what they learned.  They all want to show their best, most successful work but as a possible client you want to know how well they learn because they are going to make mistakes while working for you.

How many teachers work hard to keep a student from getting an F?  The answer is “too many”.

DO NOT FAIL is what we are taught.  Yet failure should be the most acceptable word in our vocabulary.  You’ve probably heard the famous line, “Failure is not an option”, that was attributed to NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz.  We all get the point made; when human life is at stake, no one wants to think about failure.  But the men and women Kranz spoke to had many failures before coming up with the successful solution.  Failure was an option.

Smart companies understand failure HAS to be an option.  Small businesses have to be even more willing to accept the lessons of failure because no small business has the time or depth to ignore those lessons.

Make up a list of things you are worried might fail.  Then start doing them…today!

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N.D. (Don) Brown is a Principal of Brownchild Ltd., Inc. located at 3754 Sunset Blvd., Houston, TX 77005.  You can reach him by phone at 713-807-9000-O or 713-822-8370-C. Email him at [email protected] or visit his website at www.brownchild.com.

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