What comes after failure has a lot to do with what existed prior to failure — the attitudes, the entrepreneurial philosophies, the corporate cultures, the egos and the openness — or lack thereof — to learn and evolve. We all love a comeback story. We are inspired and motivated when we see failure lead to success. We feel hopeful that we, too, can overcome our own mistakes and failures. Yet, hope is not a strategy and positivity is not the real reason for comebacks.
Blockbuster rejecting to merge and failing to embrace an opportunity to acquire Netflix was a detrimental mistake — because they didn’t learn from it. And we all saw what happened next: their demise. Conversely, Steve Jobs’ forced resignation as the CEO of Apple and departure from the company, along with his subsequent return as a more mature leader led to the creation of a trillion-dollar technology force that influences the daily lives of billions of people. All of this may have been triggered by his failure to be a great leader in his early days, but that failure was not a mistake since he came back smarter having learned from it.
On April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola introduced “New Coke.” This was perhaps one of the biggest marketing and product positioning disasters in recent history. It was indisputably a bad decision, but not necessarily a mistake. The company quickly learned and acted to rectify the error. In the process, they gained tremendous loyalty from the “Classic Coke” supporters. The company aimed to be more like Pepsi, but learned that its originality and unique taste is at the core of its strengths.
Failure occurs when we refuse to alter our path in order to deal with change and uncertainty. Errors do occur and making a bad decision is only human. It only becomes a mistake if we do not learn how to improve the next time.
Here are a few ideas to position yourself for bounce backs after a failure and avoid mistakes.
· Aim to solve the right problem — The most common causes of failure are solving the wrong problem, or pursuing the wrong opportunity. Learn to identify the right problem to solve and be ready to pivot — avoid mistakes by turning bad decisions into learning opportunities.
· Avoid the generic advice of “fail often, fail fast” — No one likes to fail and no sane person wants to be a failure. Failure is a source of waste — of time, of capital and of mental resources. Errors and bad decisions are human, but mistakes are a choice; learn fast and learn often. Permanent and absolute wins in today’s fast-moving and ever-changing business world are a dream. If you hesitate to learn, you are positioning yourself for a mistake. Stanley McChrystal’s (retired United States Army general) assessment of good leaders is that they “can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”
· Choose to learn over and over to circumvent mistakes — According to Winston Churchill, “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” If you accept the challenge of competing in today’s constantly changing business world and the need for constant emergence, then you must accept failure as a necessary element of growth, but avoid mistakes — don’t choose to ignore a lesson.
Realize that success is never final and failure is fatal only if you realize your errors too late. Be tolerant of failure, but not of mistakes.