Yesterday I wrote that you can be more prepared in business and life if you learn from your mistakes and failures. Many more successful people than myself will also tell you, “Failure is good. Embrace it and learn from it. Then you’ll succeed.” First let’s try and accept two facts:
- Failure is inevitable. Even the most successful people in the world have failed and will continue to fail.
- Failure can be a good thing, if you learn from it.
So now you’re saying, “Fine. I’m failing. Oh, I’m soooo happy! Why don’t you tell me something useful, Ben?” Fair enough. It’s not enough to say, “learn from your mistakes” — let’s look at how you can learn from them.
- Write down your mistakes/failures. Be as explicit as possible. “The business failed,” doesn’t count. “We couldn’t find a way to properly market the product,” does count.
- Break the failure into its smallest components. Essentially, what we’re doing is problem solving. And with any fairly substantial problem, it’s always easiest to break it down. The first question to ask is “why” — “Why couldn’t we find a way to properly market the product?” If you’re working with a group, try a brainstorming session to come up with some ideas. If you’re on your own, then brainstorm with yourself (I said “brainstorm” people, minds out of the gutter please.) Few failures have one absolute reason, but going through this exercise should help you get to the root of things. The most obvious answer might be right (“None of us know how to market anything”) but it might not be (“We didn’t know WHAT we were selling, so we couldn’t market it properly.”)
- Propose solutions. Now that the problem is identified in its smallest chunks, we need to find solutions. Even if solving the problem won’t fix things (it might be too late to fix the failure that started this process), this is where you’ll buffer yourself against making the same mistake twice. Ask this question, “How COULD we have solved that problem?” Most of the time, the answer won’t be a simple one. There will probably be multiple answers. But that’s OK, and expected. And if you can’t figure out or decide on the answer, seeking help from others is always a good place to start. Mentors. The community. Your employees. Peers. Seek and ye shall find, as they say. Sometimes the answer might simply be, “I need to get more feedback from others.”
When thinking about tackling failures, always remember:
Be open. Be honest. Communicate. Problem Solve. Learn.
Good luck! And here’s some worthwhile reading:
* Giving Yourself Permission to be Imperfect from Dave Navarro.
* How Failure Breeds Success from Business Week.
* The F Words from Phil Gerbyshak.