One of the benefits of talking to college students is that you get a chance to see a different point of view and you get to see how far you’ve come from that point in you life. I recently heard this as a favorite quote from a student: “what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail.”
I knew where she was coming from, but I had to explain rather quickly that every bit of success I’ve had has come through failing.
Failure as a Business Imperative
Many innovations have come through failure. Post-It notes came about because of glue that didn’t set right. Sam Walton was told he couldn’t make up his own sales at his Ben Franklin store so he quit and founded Wal-Mart. Henry Ford ran two automobile companies that failed before he got it right.
Edison said, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”
Failure is a beautiful thing. It leads to more chances to try something new.
Fail Often, Fail Fast, and Learn
If you can, get failures churning along faster than not. The more failures you can get out of the way early in the process, the easier it will be to work past them, and then get onto a successful course. Failing very late in the process is a lot harder to fix.
One way to fail fast is to put out incomplete or prototype products or services. For instance, if you’re looking to sell your services as a social media consultant, don’t research all the various ways to do that. Put out an offering. Start trying to sell the offering. See how people react. See what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re looking for work, interview often. Learn what is useful in the interview and learn what gets overlooked. Learn how they react to different parts of the stories.
The key part of failure is learning and adapting and moving on. The key part is what makes it okay to fail. If you fail all the time and don’t learn, that’s not all that useful.
Why Hasn’t Anyone
At the new headquarters of HubSpot, several of the walls are painted with special white board paint, the kind that lets you draw on the walls with dry erase markers. Some walls, however, do NOT have this treatment. In one spot of the building (at least the last time I visited), there was this one lonely wall with nothing on it except for the words “Why hasn’t anyone” (without a question mark).
You guessed it. They put it on the wall that doesn’t have dry erase paint and then realized the error. But when I heard of this, I thought it was actually an interesting opportunity. Think about that phrase. “Why hasn’t anyone…” There’s such power in that phrase.
If I were you, and I am, I’d write “Why hasn’t anyone” in big fat permanent marker on the wall you look at most every day. Go ahead. And tell the boss to stuff it, when they ask what that’s about. You’re working on the future.
Because there’s probably no better question to start trying out new things (and potentially/probably failing) than starting with “Why hasn’t anyone.”
And you say…