The absolute importance of failure

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A recent post to a blog entry asked about failure and what to do if you have never failed.

I have to confess that I am one of the biggest failures you will ever meet. And that’s a good thing from my point of view.

4 out of 5 businesses or ideas I have fail. (But 1 out of 5 do great; and I’ve learned how to test ideas at low cost).

I’ve failed trying to climb the corporate ladder — at at least four decent-sized companies. And I’ve failed as an employee in a variety of smaller ventures. I’ve been laid off once and fired another time. (But these failures have given me the confidence and desire to go out on my own).

I’ve failed in working with 2 out of 3 business partners. (But the 1 that has worked out has been fabulous!)

One out of 4 clients don’t continue to work with me. (But 3 out of 4 are intensely loyal!)

The vast majority of people who see me speak, read my articles and blogs, receive a direct mail letter, or see an online ad for my programs don’t respond. (But I learn from this and keep testing and improving to increase response).

Get out there and fail! Stop trying to be perfect. Put up a site and keep improving it. Get out there and keep learning and refining your approach. Stop being an A student and start being a B or even C student. Try lots of things and see what works — and then build on that.

In fact, one of the reasons clients come to me is because I have failed so much. I turn that into an advantage: “Mr. Client, I can save you lots of money because I know what DOESN’T WORK as much as I know what does work. Hire me and you’ll avoid making lots of costly mistakes that your competitors make every single day.”

I used to be a perfectionist. I was an all-A student at Harvard. But while that kind of record (which came before grade inflation there) was great for a career in research or academia, it didn’t mean much in the business world. I learned fast that success in business is much different than success in school. It took me a long time to adapt, and get out of the perfectionist trap.

So try things and see what works, and doesn’t work. Learn about the needs of a specific market and solve their problems.

Get out there, try (at low cost), and learn.

Take risks and be ready to fail. When you get good at failing, paradoxically, success will follow.

That’s because you are out there doing something. That can often be enough to take your knowledge to a new level compared to your peers, and then have an insight that brings you great success.

Obviously, you can’t fail 100% of the time forever. You have to keep shifting and adapting, using what you have learned to try new things. Don’t try to fail. But do take risks in which you minimize your downside, learn from your actions, and keep persisting in new and improved directions.

In drilling for oil, you might hit 9 dry wells before you strike the gusher! The same is true in business. You never know if success will come after 1 well, after 10, or — due to the way that statistics can work — after 20.

Just keep drilling! And that means you have to be willing to keep failing.

Andrew NeitlichAndrew Neitlich
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