Fixing Your Epic Fail

You’ve got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em. Know when to walk away, and know when to run.   “The Gambler”, written by Don Schlitz and made famous by singer Kenny Rogers

The Horatio Alger story remains the ultimate creation myth of the United States. Start out penniless.  Be clever, ambitious and ready to work very hard.  Recognize opportunities that others ignore.  Have the courage to take risks.  Summon the self-confidence and determination to stay the course in the face of disappointment.  Succeed wildly.  Make millions of dollars.

The most admired American heroes are the success stories, the big money makers. Paul Allen and Bill Gates, college drop-outs who pulled all-nighters to build Microsoft.  Madam C.J. Walker, a widowed young mother and one-time laundress who in 1906 created a hair care product in one of her wash tubs, out-maneuvered endemic sexism and racism, and became America’s first female and first non-white self-made millionaire (her line is now at Sephora).  Madam Builds an Empire

Striving is the template for life in this country.  Never give up.  Just do it.   However, quiet as it’s kept, certain dreams simply will not pan out because they cannot.  Some ventures are ill-conceived.  Some are very good, but the resources to launch them are not available.  For others, the timing is wrong and one either misses the market, or is too far ahead of the curve and prospective customers do not yet have the desire for the product (or service).  In these instances the smartest action is, sadly, to scrap the dream and walk away.  It is so painful, humiliating, even un-American.  Success is our brand and the whole world knows it.

One of the biggest questions we will encounter as we build a life is, when do you hold on tight to your dream and keep pushing forward through rejection and disappointment and continue to invest time, passion and money into an idea that might be doomed (or not) and when do you give up?

Failure, at some point, is inevitable.  It is demoralizing and damaging, if only to the ego.  It undermines self-confidence.  Repeated failure unravels and destroys a life.

According to behavioral psychologist James Clear, who studies and writes about performance and creativity, failure can be classified in three categories:

  1. Failure of tactics
  2. Failure of strategy
  3. Failure of vision

Clear categorizes Failure of Tactics as Stage 1 and identifies it as HOW mistakes are made.  According to Clear, Stage 1 Failure occurs as a result of poor planning, preparation, or execution.  The Vision may be sound and the chosen Stategy reasonable, but operations issues bring it all crashing down.  His remedy for Stage 1 Failure is to:

  • Examine the process of product and service delivery (service packages, sales distribution, quality control and customer service, usually)
  • Identify system failures in the sales process/ buying process as articulated by customers and employees.
  • Adjust systems and practices that impede an efficient and desirable customer experience and employee efficacy and morale

Stage 2 Failure results from a Failure of Strategy and Clear calls these WHAT mistakes. Stage 2 Failure occurs when the chosen strategy is unable to deliver the desired results.  Since there is no way to know in advance which of your presumed reasonable products, services, or proposals will succeed until there is a beta test, Clear recommends that after due diligence has been done, roll it out and monitor the progress.  His remedy for Stage 2 Failure is:

  • Launch the beta test quickly
  • Do it cheaply
  • Revise rapidly

Throw it up against the wall and see what sticks. If your strategy isn’t doing the job, have Plan B ready and give your concept another try.  Keep costs low to minimize the financial strain of do-overs.  Ideas are meant to be tested, it’s all about trail and error.

Failure of Vision constitutes Stage 3 Failure and it reveals the most basic reasons of WHY the plan failed. In this scenario, the purpose for taking the action was poorly understood.  Was there no measurement of demand for the product, service, or action taken? Did you overestimate access to target customers? Did you not acknowledge that you’d rather not commit the time and money necessary to build the business or carry out the initiative?

Some of us fail because we get pressured into taking certain actions by those whose motive is to continue a tradition or to exert control.  In these scenarios,  actions are taken to follow the expectations of others, rather than one’s own priorities and preferences.

For example, the brother of a good friend, because he was the only son, was expected to take over his father’s highly successful business.  But according to my friend, her brother was not cut out to run a large and complex business.  He lacked the necessary drive. Unsurprisingly, her brother eventually crashed the business.  Their father spent more than a million dollars trying to bail out his son, but the business went bankrupt.

If you’ve done your homework and can be reasonably confident that your vision is sound and you’re willing to invest your time and money testing Stage 2 issues (launch strategy) and perfecting any Stage 1 challenges (operational glitches), then ignore those who would dissuade you to abandon your vision.  Maybe you’ll never be wildly successful, but if you feel compelled to do what you can to realize your dream, then carry on! Avoid Stage 3 Failure in this way:

  • Determine your priorities and purpose and be clear about what you’re willing to do to make it a reality
  • Identify and stand by those parts of your dream that are non-negotiable
  • Accept that there may be naysayers

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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