How to Fail: How Trial and Error is a Big Part of Your Business Journey

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Failure is your friend. Walt Disney said that a kick in the teeth might be the best thing in the world for you. His first animation studio, Laugh-O-Gram,  went bankrupt after a run of 2 years. He traveled west to try his luck in Hollywood and founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in the early 1920s. That became a slightly more successful business named “Disney” 🙂  

Businesses close because of failure. I have to qualify what you just read. Some ideas are way ahead of their time, while others are duds from the start.

Founded in 1996, Webvan was a company that sold groceries online and delivered these to people’s houses. Does this sound familiar? Sadly, after only a few years in operation, it went bankrupt and closed in 2001.

Even successful entrepreneurs have made mistakes and failed. Jeff Bezos committed them and probably will make a few more. Remember the Amazon Fire Phone? If you can’t, then it’s not your fault because it was a flop.

I heard somebody say that failure is inevitable. (No Thanos jokes, please). Nobody can avoid making mistakes. However, businesses became better because they know how to deal with them. How you handle failure and your mistakes is what will define you.  I’ll give you some tips on how to overcome these so you can rise up again when you get knocked down.

But before that, here are a couple of thoughts on fear, which hinders many companies from realizing their full potential.

Fear Of Failure vs. Expecting Failure

Despite their success, many entrepreneurs still hesitate when held back by their fear of failure. These are people who take risks to get where they are now. You can’t blame them because they might lose their business, homes, properties and their reputation in society. It can get personal when people brand them as failures – not exactly a badge of honor.

Do you fear the same when you want to try a new idea or change course?

Fear is normal, but it can inhibit growth. At the same time, it can motivate too. According to this article, fear can drive you to exert more effort and persist when pursuing your goals. Never let fear paralyze you. Instead, make it work for you.  Here’s how you deal with failure:

  • Take stock of your losses but also what you learned.
  • Take a breather while you have negative feelings, such as anger.
  • Assess your post-failure situation.
  • Move on to the next project or try again but do something differently.
  • Pat yourself on the back for trying.

Conversely, expecting failure is a negative mindset resulting from self-doubt. It’s different from being prepared for the worst. The former is setting up yourself for defeat. The latter is having a Plan B in case things don’t go according to plan.

Unfortunately, continuous failure reinforces pessimism. It’s too bad Thomas Edison isn’t around to remind us that he failed 1,000 times before he finally created the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb. When a reporter asked how it felt to fail so many times, Edison famously said “I didn’t fail … the light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Now, it doesn’t help that many feel hopeless because of the current pandemic. But, people can always change their expectations of a bleak future. Here are some ways that can help:

  • Change your habits. (Both at home and at work.)
  • Change your environment.
  • Stay away from negative people.
  • Stop negative talk.
  • Focus on possibilities.

It’s Not About You But What You Did

You are not your job or business, so never take business failure personally. When you fail at your job, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a person. You’d be surprised to learn that many people can’t distance themselves from their roles at work. Don’t commit the same mistake. If people say negative things about you, you must brush these off your shoulder. It’s the old “Carry On” adage.

Get Your Business Off Of Cruise Control

Business is about growth. After reaching a peak, there’s another one to climb. There’s always a reason to scale up. If you’re contented because you’re earning X dollars, you’ll wake up one day to realize it’s all gone.

Customers come and go. Your stay at the top is not permanent because there will always be competitors who can dethrone you. (Blackberry, say hello to the iPhone.) So, turn that auto-pilot or cruise control switch off.  It’s time to shift gears by exploring new ideas or trying out new things, even when you’re at the top.

Trial And Error Is Your Road To Growth

Businesses that flourish are those that innovate and push the envelope. They never settle for mediocrity but always aim for excellence. They take small steps with a  goal in mind.  To help you get started, here are points you should consider:   

  • Listen to your market

What do your customers want? Are you reading and replying to their feedback? If you’re not hearing from them, it’s a bad sign. Before you do anything, first determine if your new ideas will benefit them.

Trader Joe’s is known for listening to its customers. The company acts on suggestions, which endears them to their fans. Some say they have a cult following, which is good. Prices on some items are higher. However, because their customer engagement is so great, price is not the first issue with their audience.

  • Brainstorm

How would your product or service make people’s lives easier? You’ll get a ton of ideas answering this question alone. Also, an excellent way to generate ideas is to become your customer. Immerse yourself by visiting your shop and competitors’ stores. Assume they’ve seen yours. Compare your experiences and be honest with your findings.

Does your website look professional? Is navigation seamless? Run an A/B split test with minute tweaks. With a physical shop, you don’t need a complete makeover unless you’re reinventing your business. Rearranging your products might be enough.

  • Be realistic

You can dream of earning millions one day. How much time it will take will depend on your industry. Aim for achievable results. If you set unrealistic goals, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Don’t underachieve either. Try our goal setting methods to help with your planning.  

  • Look first before you take that leap

Make a last-minute check of the landscape before starting a new endeavor. If you’re planning to make tweaks, maybe you don’t have to wait despite an ongoing pandemic, for instance. But if you’re investing a lot of time and money, it might be wise to pause for a moment.

Not all innovations become hits. Razors for women is a success, but Bic for Her was not. I won’t get into detail why, suffice to say that consumers viewed the latter product as sexist. So, before taking that leap, understand your environment first.

  • Don’t over-analyze

When businesses become too focused on losses instead of gains, they are never moving forward. You’ll be using resources, whether you launch a new product or market on a new platform. Maybe you’ll use less if you’re only changing procedures or processes. But, take action instead of speculating what might happen if you do something.

Failure Is A Great Teacher

Failure is like Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. You gain knowledge and wisdom not only about your business but also about yourself.  With trial and error, you discover what works and what doesn’t. BIC learned from its mistake and has since bounced back.

Never let bad experiences erode your optimism. Consider failures as character builders. You mature as an entrepreneur or leader if you take the lessons learned seriously. You develop a higher tolerance for failures which gives you more confidence when facing uncertainty.

Failure Is A Game-changer     

“That’s how we do stuff around here.” I’m sure you’ve heard this statement before. Many businesses perform self-defeating actions. They continue doing these because they follow an obsolete manual, written or unwritten.

When repetitive actions become part of a company’s culture, radical steps are needed. Failure might be the wake-up call that can force people to make changes. The next time you fail, make sure the problem isn’t because of how you do things.  

Trial and Error Is Part Of Pivoting

When you pivot, you’re probably in uncharted territory. It’s like being in a dark room with only the exit door lighted. You have to feel your way, and if you bump into something, you stop then make course adjustments.

I’m not suggesting you test new ideas without a plan. But, you can’t prepare for all possibilities. You can only make educated guesses. Did you know that YouTube began as a dating service? Their slogan in 2005 was “Tune In, Hook Up.” However, users were using the platform for different purposes. The creators of YouTube didn’t expect that, so they needed to pivot. The rest is history.

Vera Wang wanted to be a figure skater but failed to make the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team. She worked for Vogue for 17 years and eventually became an independent bridal gown designer at age 40. From figure skater to fashion designer, Vera is worth more than a billion dollars.

Nokia began as a paper mill in 1865. They sold rubber goods, electronics and eventually cell phones. They pivoted by selling off their other divisions and decided to focus on mobile devices. The company engaged in a lot of trial and error until they created their first commercially successful phone in 1992.

Take Stock Of Your Past Triumphs

Look back at all your ups and downs. Draw strength from your successes and wisdom from your failures. Reflect on the days when you started your business. I still remember how determined and focused I was. I didn’t listen to naysayers and took that first brave step by resigning from my employer.

Persistence Is The Key To Success

Harland David Sanders, Colonel Sanders for short, sold tires, insurance and lamps. He also failed as a lawyer but began selling fried chicken in Kentucky during the Great Depression. During this time, the man developed his secret recipe for frying chicken in a pressure fryer. He went into franchising and tried to sell his Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe. At 62, when most people retire, Colonel Sanders finally sold his recipe to a restaurant on his 1,010th try. Today, you’ll find over 24,000 KFC restaurants in 145 countries.

You will encounter failure in unexpected corners. But, these are only temporary setbacks. How do you deal with these? Please let us know in the comments section below. 

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