Winning, and Learning

Everywhere you look there seems to be advice about how we learn through failure and why we should embrace it. I can see the merits to that — hell I’ve even blogged the platitude. But in a recent conversation it occurred to me that we often miss the other end. I know I did.

We need to win to learn as well. It seems obvious, but bear with me. I don’t mean just the big wins like building a business to the point that you’re on the cover of Success magazine or something.

Take my industry, for example. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen in marketing. Some of them know they’re full of shit but play the game, and others are unaware of what they don’t know and how they fall short. They repeat things they’ve heard or read because those things seem right, but haven’t really succeeded with them to know. I’ve been in the latter camp.

I had a lot of opinions and view points on how small businesses should work, should market, etc. Some of those points I agree with still, but a lot of them I’ve reversed over the years as I accumulated some wins.

See, until you actually win at a given task you only have an idea of what winning looks like. About what it would theoretically take to get there. You can regurgitate advice you’ve read by experts in your field to sound like an expert yourself (most marketers do) whether you’ve lived it or not. Whether you really get it or not. And that creates a disconnect for the listeners.

I’ve learned it’s also a disservice to yourself.

It might have taken a whole bunch of failures to eventually win, and those failures are things we are told to celebrate. But it’s also the win that they led up to that counts. After all, without it we’ve just failed a bunch of times to no avail.

Would you take marketing advice from a guy who’s tried 100 tactics and has never actually helped a business succeed?

The first time I doubled a business’ online sales I learned a lot about what succeeding online looked like. In that moment it felt like I’d learned more than 100 advice articles I’d read full of theory, and more than a bunch of seemingly good ideas I’d had that didn’t pan out. Because I’d done it.

The first time I helped a business dominate their local competitors in search — and not just rank for a few keywords — I had a much clearer picture of how to do it again.

And a lot of the tactics that I continued to do (that continued to work) went against a lot of the crap I’d read. Crap I heard repeated all over locally by peers. But it was all advice I’d listened to and parroted myself a hundred times, and didn’t know better until I started winning.

My best friend told me a long time ago that he thought celebrating failure too much was mental masturbation. I respect his opinion on many things and wanted to “get it” when he said that, but I didn’t at the time. Maybe back then I was too caught up in my own failures and wanted to validate them with platitudes about why failing is healthy.

Then they’re not really failures, right? Just stepping stones. It’s a cozy blanket to wrap yourself in.

We should definitely embrace our failures and not beat ourselves up too much about them. Buuuut we need to learn from them and start winning eventually. Getting too comfortable with failure only attracts more of it.

I’ve failed enough to know that last point is true, but it wasn’t evident to me until I had some wins. That was the difference for me. My hope is that it helps you, too.


2 Responses to Winning, and Learning

  1. Marty December 28, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    Problem is, how do you get past all the failures when there gotten you so down you can’t see any way out?
    Take for instance being out of work for so long, gone through allot of interviews and never get a job offer. How is one to keep a positive mental state? After awhile you get so you don’t even feel like trying. Tired of all the let downs.

    • Brian Watkins December 29, 2015 at 8:40 am #

      Well that’s another matter, but one I can appreciate. I’ve definitely gone spans of time with no job prospects, and sometimes without even getting interviews. I can’t speak to the solution to finding work because that’s probably different for everyone. But I will say that something that works for me in my personal life is to challenge everything.

      Question your habits, your natural reactions to things, the people you spend time with, etc. Ask yourself what you want, which is a tougher question than it often seems when you really get down to it. Once you nail down a path with realistic, tangible goals, suddenly the other aspects of life become easier to assess. Do the people you spend time with and the places you spend time in align with those goals? Do those people and places inspire you or make accomplishing things easier, or are they impediments?

      Are your behavior models productive? For example you may find as I did that you often reply to people in a dry manner, where many of your answers take on a negative tone. When people asked me what I did for a living years ago I noticed over time that my answer always had an uninterested tone to it. No surprise then when they didn’t ask more questions, because if I’m not even interested in my work why should they be?

      If you’ve fallen into a routine each day (as most of us do) that can often be a big component of what is not working. Watching TV until you fall asleep is an easy, comfortable choice, but also one where you never do anything inspiring and can easily contribute to depression.

      When you question these aspects of your life, be willing to change any/all of it (in pieces so it’s manageable). It’s harder than it may sound, but you can’t grow if you aren’t willing to discard what doesn’t work.

      Lastly, learn whenever you can. For me that’s helped to stay sharp and gives me things to focus on when I may otherwise feel down. If you have a tablet or PC and the internet, you can answer just about any question you have. A few Youtube channels I follow that I recommend are:
      BrainCraft –
      It’s OK To Be Smart –
      and of course… Vsauce –

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