When Failure Isn’t Failure: Hard Lessons in Business and Life
I fail to see how you fail to see that it’s awesome!
Ever had a failure you thought was the end of the world, but turned out to be a blessing?
(This is not a downer episode, we promise.)
In episode 11 of Podcast Awesome, Dave talks about the lessons he learned from what he originally considered failures in business and life. He also talks about how he used them to his advantage.
So, there are overachievers among us who may not relate. However, most of us know what it’s like to face plant and flunk out of something. Well, what about flunking out of MIT? Yup, Dave knows what that’s like. And he did it twice.
He also recounts lessons learned during the Font Awesome 5 Kickstarter, how self-fulfilling prophecies can come true (good or bad), and how a startup is nothing more than believing a lie until it becomes the truth (tongue partially inserted in cheek), and more.
Here are a few insights from the podcast that highlight how judging whether something is a true failure or not is mostly about your attitude and point of view.
Sometimes failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Startups are a great example of self-fulfilling prophecy. When a startup begins, it’s nothing more than — as Dave puts it — believing a lie until it becomes the truth.
“There’s a weird thing about self-fulfilling prophecies, like things we believe to be true, and how they can actually come about. The world is not this shiny magical place in the way you believe like when you were a kid where anything you can imagine can happen. But it is really strange as an adult to see the truth that some of the things you believe can become true because you believed them. A startup is nothing more than believing a lie long enough that it becomes the truth, that your company has something that people want and that you can make enough money off of it to survive. In a way the beginning of a startup is a lie. It doesn’t exist yet. You hope it does.
The same is true in a weird way about failure, that if we believe that we have failed, sometimes that’s completely accurate. There was a specific thing we were setting out to do. It didn’t work. And so now the crossroads is, what to do with that thing that appears to be a failure on the surface?”
Sometimes, failure means the timing wasn’t right.
The real challenge is understanding when failure is a good thing. Sometimes, failure is the result of not having the right skills or bad timing. Sometimes, it’s just a bad implementation or execution. It’s important to recognize these differences and quit when it’s necessary.
“[The timing issue] in tech happens all the time where there’s a great idea for a product and the execution is pretty darn good. It’s just that things weren’t ready yet. And it might be that the technology isn’t quite there yet. Take the Palm Pilot as an example. There was a lot of really cool stuff it could do, but it wasn’t quite there yet. The battery life was okay, but the feature set wasn’t great. It could only do a few things and it didn’t do any of them extremely well. It was a great idea. Everything about the business made sense, but the technology world wasn’t ready for it.
Then the iPhone comes out where you’ve got some phenomenally creative engine individuals figuring out the right set of features to push forward and the timing was better.”
Sometimes failures can lead to success.
At the time of the Font Awesome 5 Kickstarter, we took advantage of some of our supposed failures. After months of failed experiments (ahem, Fort Awesome), we took a step back to look at what was working and what wasn’t. It turned out that despite our failed projects, we had unknowingly built something key to our future success.
“After a quarter’s work for four people, we had one person sign up for Font Awesome paid services. One. So in the first quarter, what we were trying to do with Fort Awesome looked like a failure. Next quarter, that one looked like a failure. And then in the third quarter, we tried another experiment and that didn’t work.
So we backed up and thought ‘what’s the simplest change we can make? What do people love and ask for from Font Awesome?’ And it’s just more icons. And that’s where the Font Awesome 5 Kickstarter came from.
But the key reason that worked was because we had collected email addresses for the Font Awesome CDN project. So we had this sizable email list we could send to, to let people know about the Kickstarter news and to keep people informed. And that list was absolutely vital.
Every single time we sent an update about the project, the least amount we ever could directly attribute to that email was about $10,000. And we were getting ones as high as 40 or 50 grand from sending a single email to that list. And that list came about through what we thought were failed projects.”
Don’t climb someone else’s success ladder.
One of the biggest challenges in the modern workplace is finding success and defining what it means to you. Sadly, many jobs don’t acknowledge personal growth and development. The pressure to succeed can often lead people to strive for someone else’s goals and climb someone else’s ladder. But what happens when you reach the top and realize it’s not where you want to be?
“You have to identify for yourself what success is for you. And ideally what you’re looking for in a company is somebody who’s going in the same direction long enough to go with them. Where those two things align where you want to grow and what they need done, what you want to do and what they need done happens to align.
But most companies don’t ever recognize that this will almost certainly not be the last place you work and treat you that way. You need to be able to build your skills for wherever you go next. Because climbing somebody else’s ladder is always a form of failure. But climbing your own ladder and recognizing what is good and true and right for the world …. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t have to be a failure. This may sound trite but the only failure is when you don’t follow your conscience, when you don’t follow your convictions of what you think is right.”