Learning from Failure  

Question: I am sure that there are entrepreneurs that have failed during their startup or even failed when bringing a product or service to market. What did they learn from those experiences?

Answer: There is an axiom in business, “If you are not making mistakes, you aren’t doing anything.” Growth in a business occurs when you fail, acknowledge it, own it and learn from it. Every business owner can relate to a failure they experienced during startup or after launch in bringing a product to market that wasn’t fully vetted or tested. Winston Churchill was quoted as defining success as “the ability to go from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.” After screwing up, you can only learn from it, get back in the saddle and do it better the next time. Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak [email protected] commented on failure in a recent blog is sharing some of his ideas for this column.

Consider the following:

Own the error by taking full responsibility for the misstep, or you will surely repeat it in the future. If you fail to own it, you won’t learn from it and will, therefore, fall into the same pattern that got you to that situation in the first place.

Be courageous. Be Proactive. Take action to own and correct the error before someone else takes it from you and forces you in a direction you don’t want to go.

If it was a performance issue, like losing a sale, view the entire experience through the eyes of a “super salesperson” and assess what they would have done differently. Then adopt those steps in future interactions.

Be courteous and analyze the impact of the failure on others, especially those who trusted you to perform in the first place.

Evaluate the expectations. What was the level of performance that was expected? Was it understood?

Focus on the event and the performance of the event or lack thereof. If you personalize it, you won’t learn from it. If you beat yourself up about it, you cannot be objective about corrective action for the future.

Complete these three sentences: I learned to …, I learned not to …, Next time, I’ll …

Be accountable without offering excuses. Create a company culture that allows for error and failure by being accountable for one’s actions.

Look at your systems if the failure is a recurring one. If you find a step was missed, maybe a checklist will help the next time, so you don’t skip the step or forget something.

If it looks like the failure was due to personal weakness, try delegating. Don’t let personal ego get in the way of achieving the “prize” whatever that might be.

At times understanding a failure or misstep requires outside assistance.

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