Failing Forward in Business
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde
We’ve all been there—hearts beating wildly, sweaty palms, about to make a decision that will in some way change the course of our lives. When we take that next step, there is risk associated with it. We have the possibility of falling flat on our face.
In my soon to be released motivational book, I liken that moment of stepping forward into the unknown to the scene in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in the moments before he crosses the invisible bridge to find the Holy Grail, which will help bring healing to his father’s wounds. In that scene, Indiana couldn’t see the next step because the bridge blended into the rocks that surrounded it.
“It’s a leap of faith,” he muttered. Knowing it was the only way, and despite the fact he couldn’t see the bridge, he took a giant step forward.
Indiana’s big moment landed him on solid footing. But that is not always the case, is it? What happens when we step forward in our businesses and fail? That moment usually produces two distinctive outcomes. The person with a resilient mindset will learn from the moment and use a different approach the next time. The non-resilient person will shy away from trying again.
Why does the non-resilient person stop moving forward? Because failing hurts. But what if there was a good reason to dust ourselves off, strap up the old boots and trek toward the leap of faith once more?
We know from public business failures that staying safe can also cost us the future of our businesses. Resting on our heels and not adapting to change only bears fruit for a season. Remember Blockbuster? The innovator of Netflix first brought his idea of streaming movies to the video rental giant and was rejected.
In 2008, Blockbuster’s CEO Jim Keyes told the online publication, Motley Fool, “Neither Redbox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition.” Keyes was focused on the technology that was available in 2008 instead of where technology was headed. Keyes believed his current success would naturally provide him assured future prosperity. His unwillingness to explore the out-of-the-box opportunities eventually led Blockbuster into bankruptcy.
Blockbuster had chosen not to skate toward the proverbial puck.
The direct connection from this corporate lesson to us as solopreneurs is this: choosing to play in our safety zone can result in us closing the door to pursuing our big ideas and hamper our future success.
Many of us know what we’d like to do, but we stop ourselves from even trying. For most, it isn’t arrogance that keeps us rooted firmly to the edge of indecision; it’s fear. We discount our business ideas as small and believe our creativity couldn’t help us achieve a new level of success. We don’t make the leap again because we tell ourselves that our credentials, our ideas or something about our businesses are not enough. We may use our past failures as a predictor of our future success. The story we craft around who we are, what we have to offer, and our perceived value causes us to stop short of pursuing our business ideas. When we stay small and choose not to take risks, our businesses become vulnerable to dying on the vine.
There is a direct connection between pursuing our dreams and the stories we choose to tell ourselves. If we tell ourselves that we can’t, we won’t. If we tell ourselves our ideas are not worthwhile, we will be less likely to pursue them. If we tell ourselves we are more likely to fail than to succeed, it will hamper our ability to create success.
We need to remember these three keys to building forward momentum:
- The stories we tell ourselves about our perceived failures will either provide us with wings or with dead weight.
- We can begin to see our past failure as a function of how to try differently the next time.
- Trying and failing is better than not trying at all. Remember Blockbuster.
The next step forward in our businesses is crucial and it is different for each of us. We can only take that next step if we begin to tell ourselves that good things are still in store, and the opportunity to thrive abounds. Our ability to take that next step is relative to our level of resilience. Lastly, trying again requires vulnerability and exposure to risk. That first step into the unknown will probably feel like a massive leap of faith.