“Make failure your teacher, not your undertaker.” ~ Zig Ziglar
There is a lot of talk about failure. Fail fast, fail often is the creed of many an entrepreneur and innovator. But what do you do about failure? How do you move on after it and what do you do with the experience of failure? Here’s a short list of how I’ve processed my (many!) failures and created something valuable from them.
1.) I learned what not to do. We hear this kind of advice all of the time when we have a terrible boss (and sadly, we’ve all had terrible bosses.) They didn’t teach us what to do but they sure as heck taught us what not to do. This is true of failure as well. We experiment with different ideas, crossing off what doesn’t work in an effort to find what does work. Finding success is largely a process of eliminating ideas that don’t work.
2.) I figured out how to build a team. I never want to be the smartest person in the room. Ever. I want everyone else to be heads and shoulders above me with completely different skill sets and interests that complement mine. I build my teams the same way. The collaborative process of a team is one in which every member contributes something unique so that everyone maximizes their learning opportunity.
3.) Know when to press on in the face of adversity and when to quit. Kenny Rogers may have been talking about gambling but his line “you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run” is as true in the business as it is in poker. Failure taught me when to cut my losses and stop throwing good money, time, effort, and attention, after bad. It also taught me when to tough it out and get through hard times for the sake of the success that lies just beyond the difficulties.
There is no playbook for managing failure. It is a process of trial, error, and trial again. We all learn it the same way. We can take advice from others, but ultimately we are the captains of our own ships. We have to steer our own course, and many times that means taking failure and success in stride in equal amounts. Don’t let failure paralyze you. Don’t let it keep you from trying again. Also, don’t waste it. It’s an incredible teacher if we are willing to look at it objectively and use it as fuel to move forward.