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.