The Experience Factor and the Power of Failure

If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative. - Woody Allen

Experience is what you get when you are looking for something else. I read that quote by Mark Twain on the back of a matchbox when I was a child. I quoted it widely whenever anyone told me what a great experience it was to play in a big golf tournament, even if you played like a dog. In a nutshell, gaining experience is often very disappointing.

Many of the entrepreneurial giants of history have had to experience the ignominy of failure many times over. The difference is in how these great people viewed their failures. Many refused to look upon them as failures at all. Rather, they considered them, as did Edison in his thousands of unsuccessful attempts to design a light bulb, as successfully demonstrating how not to accomplish a particular task. By eliminating another idea that didn’t work, the path to success became clearer. This is a classic example of positive re-framing.

Almost all business building involves a painful process of fixing problems, thus eliminating things that don’t work in the hope of eventually finding something that does. Learn to treat each setback you encounter as another way not to reach your goals. You’ll never have to waste time doing things this particular way again. Instead, you will regroup and try a different approach, knowing you are now closer to your goal. By genuinely learning from your experiences, you can see how your setbacks are necessary steps on the path to success.

There is a famous tale of an IBM employee who blew a $10-million deal and offered company president Tom Watson his resignation. Watson, who had hired the man, looked at him as if astonished and said, “I can’t possibly let you go. I’ve just spent $10 million dollars training you!” The employee, armed with an increased sense of loyalty and trust, went on to a long and mutually profitable career with Big Blue.

Watson understood the principle of experience and tried to teach it to others. “Would you like me to give you a formula for success?” asked Watson in a speech. “Double your rate of failure… You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. Go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember, that’s where you’ll find success—on the far side of failure.”

Legendary entrepreneurs have a way of turning weeds into roses, in part to guard against severely bruising their self-confidence and hurting their resolve.

Legendary entrepreneurs learn to redirect any situation in their favor by using the experience factor.

One reason so many people never become persistent is because they take every rejection, setback, or failure personally. They somehow equate their idea, product, or service with their personal self-esteem and worth. In this type of negative thinking, each business setback means the person is a failure and a loser in life, and will never get ahead. Think back to past setbacks. Are they really a reflection of you as a person? Of course not.

Give Yourself a Break

Get out of the habit of beating yourself up mentally when things go wrong. There are plenty of other people out there who are only too willing to do it for you! By focusing on blaming yourself, you are breaking down your own persistence and resolve like a wrecking ball. By all means, analyze what went wrong, but don’t take the rap personally, even if it was your fault. Simply focus on a new angle of attack and use your mental energy to come up with a new solution.

Remember, the past does not reflect what will happen in the future.

The Disney Company, now recognized around the world, has annual revenues of $35 billion. But life wasn’t always so good for founder Walt Disney. His early company producing Laugh-O-Grams for Newman cinemas in the Kansas City area was unable to generate enough income to cover the animators’ high salaries. It went bankrupt… and Walt went to Hollywood. That might be the best lesson to learn from his bankruptcy: a failure doesn’t have to be the end of the story. In fact, it might just provide the experience needed to create the next big success.

There is no success in anything without some failure along the way. The key is to fail fast, admit bad decisions quickly, and kill them fast. As W.C. Fields once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, quit. There is no use being a damn fool about it!” What he forgot to add was, “Learn from your experience and quickly move on with more productive strategies.”

Use your experience to turn defeats into victories.

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