July 22, 2014:
Why do some people achieve success while others fail? Maybe the successful people came from a wealthy family and went to a good school – or maybe they are just lucky. Actually, that’s rubbish.
When you look at the most successful people you only see the end result. You barely ever see the hard work and struggle that got them there.
You don’t see the part where the 4-Hour Work Week was rejected by publishers 25 times before it got published, after which the book shot to the top of worldwide bestseller lists.
You don’t see many posters in KFC telling the story of how Colonel Sanders was turned down 1009 times when trying to sell his original fried chicken recipe, or how Sylvester Stallone was knocked back 1500 times when trying to sell his script for Rocky.
So what gives these people the superhuman strength to persist in the face of such gruesome odds and how would such an analysis be useful for anything but toilet paper for the rest of us?
In John C. Maxwell’s book Failing Forward he argues that the difference between average people and achieving people are their perception of and response to failure; most people perceive failure as a potential threat to their self-worth and respond to it by running away, whereas those who succeed see failure as an inevitability on the path to growth and therefore embrace it.
Failures will define your business
Have you ever heard of a social activism platform called ThePoint.com? Probably not. That’s because the business was a failure.
ThePoint was co-founded by Andrew Mason – who incidentally dropped out of the University of Chicago to do so – following a $1 million investment from Eric Lefkofsky. ThePoint was originally conceived as a means of improving the structure of online funding and group action. Despite generous investments the site quickly ran into trouble as traffic and participation plummeted.
The main problem was that ThePoint lacked focus, with Mason saying, “It’s this huge, abstract idea. You can use this platform to do anything from boycotting a multinational company to getting 20% off a subscription to the Economist…That’s the big problem with it.”
Mason saw his business failing. The natural reaction would be to run away. When our cavemen ancestors saw something failing, the ones who ran away the fastest and furthest were the ones most likely to survive. Not only is running away from failure an instinctive response, it’s in our very genes.
Luckily, Andrew Mason wasn’t a caveman and he didn’t run away. While seeing his business falling apart left and right, he noticed one thing that seemed to be working within ThePoint. Campaigns which allowed participants to group together to gain buying power in order to purchase things with a discount.
This was all he needed: ThePoint started to offer a daily GetYourGroupon feature, which later became Groupon.com. The business adjusted its strategy from having no clear focus, to exclusively targeting group buying coupons. Soon after, traffic to the site exploded and within 6 months Groupon expanded to 3 more cities. Today Groupon.com has over 200 million worldwide subscribers and a net worth of over a billion dollars.
Embrace failure and you will embrace success
I have personally failed more times that you would even believe. But I don’t see them as failures. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn – that’s the way I see things.
What separates those who will eventually achieve success from those that dream big but give up at the first whiff of resistance is the ability to embrace failure. You probably know the feeling of the excruciating unknown whilst working on a project.
That’s your body and your instincts saying you are doing something wrong and that you should back off right now. But our instincts are not always correct. They were perfect for our ancestors, when even the smallest mistake could be fatal and running away was always the best bet for staying alive. But we are not living in caves anymore and we are very rarely faced with life and death situations.
Failure doesn’t happen when you take a single wrong step from the right path and miss your goal. Failure is an integral part of the very road leading to success. Understanding the nature of failure is a crucial part of taking the steps one needs towards success.
I just want to say one word to you,
just one word: Test!
Failing means that you have taken action in the face of uncertainty. All business ventures involve taking shots in the dark. You can call it a calculated risk or a projection, but that’s only playing with words: it’s a shot in the dark.
When you are shooting in the dark, the only way to hit your goal is to aim with all the information you have and take the shot. You probably won’t make it the first time, but you will make it if you keep on adjusting your aim and trying. This means testing, testing and more testing. Testing is the only way you can find out what works and what doesn’t.
The feedback loop for how good an idea is can be very long. It might take up to 6 months to find out whether the Amazon Affiliate site you’re planning to build around the new and exciting ‘pianos for dogs’ niche will bring in any income but you can lose much more by not giving it a shot.
Throwing the towel in on a project that didn’t work out doesn’t make you or the project a failure but never testing your idea is a guaranteed method of never being successful; as Michael Jordan once said “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying”.
There is no shame in failing. There is only shame in not trying.
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