I hate to lose. Really hate to lose. Nothing gets under my skin more than to know I gave something my absolute best and then see the outcome deliver less than my expected results. But truth be told, when I lose, I can — more often than not — pull the thread on the situation and identify something I could have done to change the outcome. No, not always. But in most cases, a serious post-mortem on any project will yield some pretty good insights on why I failed and the lessons to be learned and applied to change the outcome next time.
One of the turning points in my professional life was immediately after the business development team I was working on surprisingly lost a major new client win. The loss was devastating in that we had already been through all of the presentations and completed all of the financial proposal reviews with the client’s evaluation team. They had already informed us that they would be awarded us the business — a business worth millions of dollars to my company. Overnight, their President overturned the decision, based solely on his concerns of the disruption to the organization that would come from a change in suppliers. Despite the added advantages we had put on the table, in his mind, the cost of transition was too great. It was a stunning loss.
In the days that followed, I challenged my boss that we should never allow moving business to be a reason not to change suppliers; we needed to turn it around and sell the transition experience as one of the benefits of the overall process. He may have thought I was nuts at the time, but I set out to define and document a process that made the reason we lost one piece of business a key selling point of future new business RFPs. We not only used it to redefine the process of selling (and winning!) business, but eventually turned it into a global best-demonstrated practice that helped the company standardize client experiences worldwide. The company won millions and millions of dollars worth of contracts as a result — and I benefitted financially, as well. Turning adversity into opportunity … that’s when you get ok with failure and win!
Some of the world’s biggest success stories are failures who refused to quit when life handed them a challenge. They had the tenacity and drive to get back into the game, time and time again, and keep pushing until they realized their dream. If you had a chance to talk to them, I doubt they were just acting like a determined fly, slamming against the same window screen in the hopes of eventually breaking through. No, my money is on the idea that they learned from each failure, made some adjustments and tweaks until they eventually found success. Flies aren’t that smart and most die of determination on the window sill. Don’t be a fly, be more like these great success stories:
- Henry Ford – His early businesses failed five times before he successfully founded the Ford Motor Company.
- Albert Einstein – Did not speak until age four, was considered mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social by his parents and teachers and was refused admittance to the Zürich Polytechnic Institute. He never quit and won the Nobel Peace Prize and change modern physics forever.
- Michael Jordan – Cut from his high school basketball team, he never quit. He will tell you, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
- Babe Ruth – Known for his home run record, also held the record for the most career strikeouts. When asked about this he simply said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”
- Steven Spielberg – Was rejected from the USC School of Theater, Film and Television three times. He eventually attended school at another location, only to drop out to become a director before finishing. Thirty-five years after starting his degree, Spielberg returned to school in 2002 to finally complete his work and earn his BA. Forbes recently put his personal net worth at $3.2B.
- J.K. Rowling – Less than ten years ago, she was a single, divorced mother who was living on welfare, going to school and trying to write a novel. She was severely depressed and nearly penniless. She went from what most would describe as being a total failure to one of the wealthiest and most read novelists of modern times…all because of hard work and determination.
Don’t ever look at failure as the end of something. Look at it — always — as the beginning. It is an opportunity to learn, to refocus, to try harder. It is the first step toward success!