Failure Breeds Success

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

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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 Mastery Cycle

Slide1I led a master class and several workshops at a conference last week. My goal was to take the students through the mastery cycle without them knowing it. The outcome was eye opening during the debriefing stage of the conference – The time when reality revealed where on the master craftsman scales each person landed.

The mastery cycle has four parts to it: attitude, knowledge, practice, and skill. The attitude step is all about adjusting one’s dreams to a reality check without draining their vision. Increasing their knowledge is the second step that requires a certain amount of entertainment in order to retain the information. The third step is practicing with a coach who can guide and correct each step of the way. The fourth step is the development of a specific skill that can shine during the process.

Once the process concludes, it’s always useful to debrief the participants and find out what they achieved or learned. Everyone gains a new skill (or part of one) or learns how to avoid a disaster going forward. Both are needed for the master craftsman’s utility belt regardless of their occupation.

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT
My classes were filled with beginning filmmakers and semi-professional amateurs. Both groups typically have a great aptitude for filmmaking, but greatly lack the skills needed to climb to a higher level of quality. Since its impossible to get to the next level until you first understand what you don’t know, adjusting the attitudes of the participants is critical to their growth.

I opened with an example of a finely crafted short story that an amateur would shoot for less than $10,000 and a professional would shoot for no less than $265,000. By explaining the difference in quality, story, skill levels, etc., I helped many of the students correct their vision and desire more skills.

INCREASED KNOWLEDGE
The next class was about how to develop a story using a simple logline as a blueprint. Loglines are one to two sentences that clearly articulate the overall story. Any variation due to overzealous creativity in the process weakens the story and hinders the film’s success.

The class developed the beats of the story based on the logline and then wrote a script to be shot the next day. Everyone in class got caught trying to take the story down a rabbit hole, but the team maintained focus thanks to the agreed upon logline – a safety net to make sure the chosen topic is adhered to.

PRACTICE WITH COACH
The day of the shoot was guided by the experienced training the inexperienced. We had hoped for a professional team coaching an amateur team, but circumstances didn’t come together as planned. Still, the experienced were able to help and encourage those with less experience. Three scenes were shot and then debriefed the following morning.

We reviewed the dailies and discussed the pros and cons that came from the shoot. And yes, there were more cons, but I prefer to say there were more learning opportunities. As long as the person learns from his or her mistakes, they are another step closer to mastering their craft.

During the shoot the director is in charge. He must hold true to the logline, the script breakdown, his notebook, and all the other tools he has in delivering the final story based on its original intent as expressed in the script. Unfortunately, the director was so busy trying to keep his cast and crew moving that he forgot to refer back to his notes.

The outcome was some really good shots and acting that had nothing to do with the story. During our review, I pointed out as many of the errors that added to the destruction of the story and why each person failed. I also pointed out that with film being a collaborative art form everyone must stay on task, rather than offering up things that don’t move the story forward.

SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Each participant got a taste of a new skill they need to develop. The director learned how to breakdown the beats of the story to make sure they are filmed. The actors learned the importance of becoming the character instead of changing the character to be like them. The writers learned that creatives can make things up all day long, but must only keep what fulfills the logline. And on it went.

The process that led to the beginning development of a new skill can now be cycled again to lift that skill to another level. The repetition will eventually see the person master the skill and others for his utility belt, which will eventually lead to the mastering of the craft.

The person who embraces the mastery cycle will eventually become the master and be able to properly break the rules in order to move the art forward. They are also the ones who are passionate about the art. They are the perfect type of people worth having on any set and in any workshop.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers