2015 will be the year we all embrace failure as a vehicle for learning, adaptation and success.
For too long a time, society celebrated success disproportionately to the failures that led to that event.
When I quit the corporate world and first started my business in 2008, I had a general idea of the direction I wanted to take, but no real road map. I was just ‘doing’ and hoping for the best.
My skillset was diverse, with no clear sense of homogeny, execution was sporadic, I’d say things I didn’t want to say in meetings, and came across as slightly unsure. I had no idea what to charge and would constantly do work for next to nothing. Worst of all, I was competing in an industry that would fast become highly competitive.
Actually for the first six months, I wasn’t making any money. It felt pretty horrible, and desperation kicked in. I flicked through the local newspaper and found the job section. Part of me was ready to give in, the other part of me was fighting to persevere. I hit rock bottom, it felt like failure.
Practicality set in, I needed money. I got into my old Toyota Corolla and drove to my first interview. It was for a marketing manager role at a major retailer, offering $60k. The whole time during the interview, I couldnt help but feeling I was doing the wrong thing. It wasn’t until they asked me this question, that I had an epiphany:
Why would you give up your business to work for us?
Then it hit me. Why would I give up the business? There was no need to. I then mouthed words to the interviewer that still echo in disbelief (for the fact they actually worked) through my head today: “I’m not giving up my business, I’m giving you the opportunity to save money and get the job done.”
You see, I wasn’t there for the job, I was there for a job. I offered them a month-to-month contract opportunity to get the work they needed done via my business, at a $15,000 discount… and it worked.
So I did it again. Sometimes it would work, other times it wouldn’t, but my pitch grew significantly better each time. By the end of my first year of trade, I was making $150k in contracts alone.
Just like a misbehaving toddler being set boundaries by their parents, failure sets up no-go boundaries for a clearer path in the right direction.
We all fail, but picking up the pieces and analysing them is the key to not failing in the same way again. Here’s some billionaires that had to fail to succeed:
- Bill Gates: Launched a company called Traf-O-Data to process and report data from roadside traffic counters. It failed because his demonstration didn’t work. He later launched Microsoft and is worth over $72b.
- Steve Jobs: Apple was originally a dud, with both Steve Wozniak and Jobs creating the Apple I (which flopped), and the failed project ‘Lisa’, which actually got him kicked out of the company. He then created a company called NeXT, which was acquired by Apple and his subsequent leadership there brought him to a net worh of over $10b.
- Richard Branson: From a magazine that almost landed him in prison, to a record shop that actually did land him in prison, the learning curve of the failures with his early businesses helped him create the Virgin empire of over 400 companies and his net worth of over $4b.
- James Dyson: Tried relentlessly to create the Dyson vacuums we know and love today. His 5,127 prototypes nearly depleted his finances, but also individually each of them brought him closer to the $3b he is worth today.
How to identify failure
Whether it’s in your professional, business or personal life: stop and take a good look around. Look at the pieces, and try working your way back through the sequence of events that led you to that moment of failure. Some questions to answer:
- Is now the time to reflect on it? Or should you wait?
- Is this a singular failure, or a product of multiple ones?
- Who made the calls that let to that moment?
- What were you working towards?
- Was the way you were working towards it the correct way?
- Could you have prevented it before hindsight? Or was it unavoidable?
- Exactly what would you have done differently?
- How could you prevent yourself from being exposed to a similar situation?
How to learn from failure
Once you’ve worked out exactly how it is you came to the point of starting over, there’s a good set of checklist items you can work through to categorise what you’re supposed to learn from the situation. This will literally create the insight you need to ensure you learn and grow from experience:
- Do you accept responsibility? How?
- What is the sequence of events that led to failure?
- Do you feel comfortable knowing you can avoid a similar failure?
- What data do you need to avoid such a failure next time?
- How would you respond to future signs of failure?
- Can you see any room for improvement?
- What changes do you need to make to prevent this from happening again?
- How can you make light of the failure?
How to apply micro-failures to business and grow every day
Getting ahead by inviting and learning from small failures isn’t new. It’s called A/B Testing, and it’s like creating a continuous process of controlled little tests that you can learn and adapt from.
In a nutshell, A/B Testing is testing a singular objective using variations of the method in which you’re aiming to achieve that objective. This is generally coupled with metrics in which to measure the performance of all the variations.
For example, say we wanted to A/B Test a an existing Facebook Ad. A simple test would include two variations of the same ad, and an evaluation of the clicks each of those ads are getting to your landing page, then killing the ad that isn’t performing. Converting those leads on your landing page is another example where you can apply A/B Testing, by crating variations of your landing page to test the effectiveness of marketing-acquired leads vs actual conversions.
What other things can you A/B Test?
- Website Content (repositioning and rewording)
- Blog Content (free to view or registrations required)
- Calls to Action (variations on power words amd their location for conversion)
- Use of various kinds of imagery or videos
- Conversion funnels (such as langing pages)
- Mobile and Form Assets
- Search and Social Advertising
- Email Marketing
- Social Media
Do you have any stories where success triumphed after learning from failures? Do you know of any great methods to A/B Test deliverables in your professional or business life? Contribute below!