7.9.19 – SSI – Paul Boucherle
Don’t be afraid to fail — and learn from your failures. Doing so can instill attributes like grit and risk-taking.
Failure is not a weakness. It is, however, a very instructive teacher for students who listen. Failure is often the tuition of wisdom. Lack of encountering failure can mean a variety of things, some good and some bad.
I used to ride dirt bikes with a friend who would say, “If you don’t fall down once in a while, you aren’t going fast enough!” Well that could mean you should ride on the razor’s edge of your current skill levels to better understand your limits; or you are so darn cautious you fall over from lack of forward momentum.
- You are driven to succeed come hell or high water and push through the ups and downs to reach your goals. This quality has a name, and it’s called “grit.” Grit is instilled at Parris Island. The fear of failure can be a powerful motivational force to achieve great career or personal goals. It has for my career, what about yours?
- You may have fantastic critical thinking and planning skills that enable you to reduce risk to nearly zero and see all the moves on the chess board in advance of your opening move; thus, reaching your goals without fail. You play the long game with your career/work strategy. However, not encountering Mr. Failure may mean that when you do meet him, the impact can be life changing.
- You are highly risk adverse and if there is the slightest chance of failing or looking bad, you simply won’t pursue a decision to take a risk to gain the reward. While I like this quality in pilots who transport me around the world, it can restrict opportunities for those of us that pursue business endeavors. As Wayne Gretzky said, “You will miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Sage advice indeed!
There are reasons for and degrees of failure. What can we learn from them? How did you absorb your most valuable business lessons? Of the many lessons to consider following failure, here are a few that have served me well:
- You failed to do your homework and understand the real risks as well as the rewards of your actions. This can occur early in a career due to enthusiasm without developing deeper analysis skills. In addition, overconfidence and ego can add about 80 mph to your dirt bike in a hurry.
- You may be in front of the solution curve and your target customers can’t quite “see” the benefits of your ideas or technologies … just yet. We do move cautiously in the security industry, which helps explain a typically slow adoption speed with new ideas. I have experienced successes and failures being ahead of the mainstream, and the wisdom gained sharpened my critical thinking skills but hasn’t slowed me down much!
- You may not have clearly communicated or understood the complete expectations of your target audience. They may like the “big picture” and possible intrinsic benefits; however, the devil is really in the details of making an idea deliver promised value. I’ve always found that exposing the risks openly with early technology adopters is a wise move for several reasons — they are already wondering about the downside thing, so acknowledge it; you can tell them how you plan to mitigate those risks; and share that you are in this together and won’t leave them hung out to dry.
- Finally, the uncertainty of world, national or industry economics of change for the markets you serve is completely out of your control. To add grease to this already slippery slope, lather on public opinion, political correctness and a social media monster that demands daily feedings.
You get the picture. So failure and risk are part of running a business and can be terrific teachers.
When the going gets tough and Mr. Failure is knocking on the door, pick your head up high, straighten your shoulders and answer the door because your team will be watching you. In the inspiring words of Sir Winston Churchill, “Never give in, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor or good sense. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Learn from your mistakes and allow others you work with to learn as well, because no one ever does their best work where an atmosphere of fear of failure prevails. Unless you are flying the plane I’m on!