Failure Breeds Success

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

There are several notable authors speaking on failing forward and the need for environments that allow for, or support failure. None of the individuals speak to the importance of failure and how it increases our ability to think and drive innovation. Out of those who speak about the positive aspects of failure, most seem to do so with failure as a caveat, not a requirement. The truth, however, is that failure is a necessary part of success.

Over the years, I’ve talked with numerous award winners, self-made entrepreneurs, and multi-millionaires. In each case, when talking to a person that made the trek up the hill of success, they shared how integral and critical their failures were in getting them to their goals and big wins. No one was able to succeed until they experienced a healthy dose of failure.

The secret weapon of failure must be added to our creativity tool belt. This tool empowers us for the big wins that company’s need for growth. It also wipes out fear from our workforce, promoting a healthy attitude for calculated risks that drive innovation, instead of the shrinkage driven by a risk-averse environment.

Colin Powell, one of my favorite leaders, says, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Flaws are found in every product and service. When we choose to look at the negative and learn about the need that is not being met as a result of the given flaw, then we can learn from that single point of failure and innovate a new and better solution. If, however, we pretend that our product or service does not have a flaw, then we fool ourselves and give an opening for another company to build our mousetrap better. We lose market share—by choice.

Failure sets us up to win with three benefits:

A Growth Mindset

We all start from a position of failure. This is easily seen in my first swimming lesson at Sunset Pool. I was afraid of the water, like two-thirds of Americans, and I tended to sink instead of float. By focusing on my inability to swim, I was able to add to my skill set. By the time I was an adult, I was a PADI and NAUI certified diver that swam with sharks. (According to National Geographic there are 375 types of sharks and only about a dozen are considered dangerous.)

A growth mindset was a simple idea discovered by Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, that drives motivation and productivity. The concept is that we can change or improve our basic abilities in order to make great accomplishments. By seeing failure as a stepping stone of learning, being able to consider new ideas that would never have popped up had we not failed, we can alter our products and services to be a better solution for the customer.

A Customer-Focused Perspective

I learned at an early age that failure meant you didn’t have or offer what the customer wanted. I’ll never forget the meeting I had with the vice president of a national youth organization. I was told what the organization wanted and I clarified what they actually needed to be successful. While I was 100% accurate in my assessment, which was later proven true, I was dropped from the project because I didn’t deliver what they wanted.

The disconnect was due to me being focused on their customers and donors, while the vice president was focused on assigned objectives. The organization moved ahead without me and saw a massive failure. They soon realized that their objectives were not aligned to their customers and donors. After making several phone calls to key people, they discovered that the needs in their market were perfectly aligned with my initial recommendation.

My failure taught me a valuable lesson about having a customer-centric perspective. I could have gotten the original contract had my recommendation matched their objectives, but I stood by what I thought was right, not what they were willing to pay for. The next customer that called me in for a quote that wasn’t aligned to their market, I offered exactly what was being asked for and supplied a phase two proposal covering next steps should phase one not work. One company suggested we forgo phase one and just jump to two. I was thrilled that they had made the determination after understanding the differences between phases.

A Trajectory for Success

When failure no longer looks like a problem, but rather the next step of an exploration seeking the best solution, the company finds itself on a trajectory of success no matter what scenario is first developed. I had a friend who once told me that some things aren’t worth doing perfectly. The saying stuck with me because my marketing background suggested that speed to market was far more powerful than second to market—unless you pour a ton of money into the second product’s release.

My friend explained that when a product or service is 80% ready for release, to go ahead and release it while continuing to perfect it. Within six months, regardless of having released the product at 100% or 80% complete, the product will still be tweaked from the market’s initial feedback. The amount of time it takes to polish the final product is not worth the quality difference compared to the percentage of market share gained by releasing first.

While this holds true with most products and services, it does not work in film and music sales. Once the product is created, you rarely have an opportunity to fix and rerelease it. This is why entertainment companies do test screenings and focus groups—to get it right the first time out.

My failures have given me wonderful tools that move each of my projects a step closer to success. Without those failures, I would have no idea how to make a new product or service successful. When we review our failures and determine the lessons learned, we drive success in our next venture. In other words, failure allows us to grow, focus on our customers, and create a process that forces our success.

Shouldn’t we all be thankful for our failures?

© 2019 by CJ Powers

 

The Game of Business

person holding string lights photo

Photo by David Cassolato on Pexels.com

When speaking in-depth with an executive at a successful Fortune 100 company, I find more times than not that the executive looks at the business and marketplace as a game to be won. Most sales and marketing executives that I’ve spoken with also have a penchant for playing business.

The movers and shakers in the entertainment industry find the creation of their products and services to be game-like as well. In fact, creative people, in general, find their productivity skyrockets every time they view their innovations as a game. So why aren’t the business schools teaching business game strategies?

Three rules in the world of business gameplay must be present to innovate.

RULE 1: LEARN THE RULES

Every marketplace operates under the common assumptions and perceptions of its players. Once you’ve mastered the rules in any given market, you are then able to hyper-focus on the areas that are dealmakers and breakers. You are also able to learn what it takes to introduce new perspectives and disruptive ideas to catapult the industry forward. None of this is possible if you don’t thoroughly know the existing rules.

Back when I attended university, I made a short film that stirred the viewers and gave them hope in their own future. The letters I received suggested that this miracle film needed to get a broader release to touch more lives. I immediately took the film to the 16mm marketplace that had an audience of schools, libraries, churches, and other non-profit organizations.

I printed up a 5.5 X 8.5 catalog for the distributors to promote the film. I provided films to all the distributors for their rental programs. And, I even did radio interviews sharing where the films were available. Then I braced myself to make a lot of money. Three months later, only three copies of the film had been rented. I started asking questions and learned that the distributors never sent out my promotional materials.

No one told me that the distributors bound all of their 8.5 X 11 catalogs into one large book that they gave to their customers. Since my catalog was a different size, they tossed it in the trash. I realized that before entering any marketplace in the future, I’d make sure that I understood the rules.

RULE 2: PRACTICE THE GAME

The game of business is played every day, but the tools and techniques used require developed skills. No one enters a game with ground pleasing abilities because they are natural at it. Sure, some get lucky in their first few months based on what they sensed entering the marketplace, but it’s rare to last longer than a short stint.

The more a person tests out and practices various strategies, the better they get at playing the game. However, no one can rest on their laurels in the world of business gaming because the conditions change with every innovation. The main reason businesses want to innovate is to disrupt their competitor instead of being the one scrambling to reinvent the business due to someone else’s contribution to the marketplace. I read a poster years ago and if I remember properly it said, “Change is scary unless you’re the innovator.”

RULE 3: ENJOY TROUBLE-SHOOTING

Innovation is solving a problem that the rest of the market hasn’t yet thought about. It’s a fun activity and rewarding when your product or service is first to market with clear benefits for the end-user. Coming up with a viable solution worth exploring requires a significant amount of research and brainstorming.

The fuel used in successful brainstorming sessions is called F.U.N. and is the key to the successful play required to innovate.

  • F = Free from Failure: Every idea is a good one because it’s either an element in the final solution or the cause that leads to a better idea. Therefore, failure does not exist, as all aspects of the brainstorming process benefits the system.
  • U = Uplifting in Spirit: The process is affirming and energizing, especially when synergies form from within the brainstorming process that simplifies the team’s effort. This uplifting spirit or attitude typically makes everyone feel like their part made a difference in the final solution.
  • N = Narrative for Market: When everyone gives their personal best and brings to the innovation sessions a diverse background of experiences, a new narrative that will drive the innovation forms to solidify the vision for the product or service. The ability to explain in simple terms what the innovation does and how people benefit from it drives internal communications and sets up marketing with the necessary tools to promote the solution.

The atmosphere of play not only generates great solutions, but it also energizes people and gives them a reason to come to work every day. This playfulness relaxes the logical side of the brain and empowers the creative side, giving voice to all involved in the innovation process. And, with numerous minds working together from diverse backgrounds, it will generate some great ideas worth developing further.

Playing the game of business is a lot of fun, especially when your team wins an additional chunk of the market. It’s also enjoyable to trouble-shoot in advance of realized market problems to have a solution at the time the market is ready for it. I also find it fun to catch the competition off-guard from the innovation, forcing them to scramble for a “me too” product.

I think it’s time for you to have fun this week innovating.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

 

 

 

 

A Creative Approach to Dealing with Email

person using macbook pro on brown wooden desk

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

We are often flooded with an onslaught of irrelevant data filling our email box. In this day of information overload, we can find ourselves swimming in hundreds of emails that are unrelated to our task at hand. Wading through it not only absorbs our precious time, but it also keeps us from our profitable work that meets our goals and objectives.

A few years ago, I returned from a conference where we had no time allotted to check emails, so I found my mailbox filled with about 1,200 new emails. These were the ones that did not meet the automated filtering system that forwarded most of the mail to other employees while I was out of the office. The stack was deemed to be only answerable by me, but I didn’t have eight hours to properly go through the stack.

I quickly surveyed my associates and asked what they did when there were more emails than time to go through them. One man said to delete them all since the important ones will get a follow-up email. A woman suggested I create a folder, move the emails into it for future consideration, and label the folder with the conference dates. However, she shared how she was still working through the emails from her vacation last year.

The sheer number of unanswered emails was taking a toll on me. The volume of mail increased the number of overwhelming distractions I faced. I could sense that the overload of information was crushing my ability to be creative and come up with simple ideas and solutions. Determining a process for dealing with old emails was mandatory if I wanted my mind freed for important innovative work.

To build the process, I brainstormed the types of emails needing to be addressed:

  1. Irrelevant emails
  2. Project-related emails
  3. Urgent emails
  4. Important emails
  5. Advertisements and advertorials

The most efficient way of handling emails is to only open it once and act on it. The action might be to take steps required by the email, respond to it, review and file it, or delete it. Since taking action is a must when going through emails, I decided to separate the emails before opening.

Delete Ads and Irrelevant Emails

The emails that were clearly an ad or unrelated to my primary function were immediately deleted. I had my mail program reveal the first few lines of each email so I was able to delete items without opening the mail. This allowed me to delete about 300 emails.

File Project Emails

Since the people I work with use a protocol in the email subject line for ease of searching and sorting, I was able to move project files into their appropriate folders for review during my next scheduled project time. Unopened mail that is moved into a folder is still highlighted as not yet having been read, allowing me to know exactly which emails to read first. This action allowed me to schedule about 400 emails to a time slot booked for the project it pertained to.

Take Immediate Action on Urgent Emails

There were about 50 emails requesting my immediate attention, but only seven that actually needed my attentiveness. After taking care of the seven, I made quick decisions on what the remaining required for true next steps. This was important since some people’s urgent matters aren’t my problem. My decisions need to be based on what was urgent for me, not others.

Schedule Important Emails

There were about 100 emails that I’d consider important. I scheduled a handful of 30-minute response blocks of time throughout the week to work on the important items. Some of the emails only required me to assign projects to key players, while others required my time. The goal was to do a little bit every day until all the important items had been handled.

Outside of the above sorting categories, were about 350 emails that needed some action, but may or may not have had any level of importance. I quickly scanned the emails and made immediate decisions on the level of action required. All but about a dozen emails ended up in the trash.

I use the Gmail search engine for my emails because it gives me the most control available. Not only can I search by customer or project, but I can also search by what I don’t want included in the search.

For instance, let’s say I’m searching for legal files under project code TNT, but I don’t want any of Anthony’s emails in the output results. In the search bar, I type: TNT attorney -Anthony. This gives me all coded emails that include the attorney while leaving out all emails with Anthony’s name. The simple use of the minus sign reduced my output results from 1,633 documents down to 5, of which I opened the one I needed.

By maintaining a process for sorting through an overload of emails frees us up to innovate. Instead of eating up hours of our day trying to catch up, we can take relevant action immediately. And, we can open key project emails during project billable times instead of administrative times—making the reading of emails profitable.

© 2019 by CJ Powers