Failure is the Slowest Way to Learn
There is a line in one of the songs of the incredibly talented, but almost unknown, Irish singer/songwriter Brian Houston, which goes ‘failure is the slowest way to learn’. While there is undeniably some truth in that sentiment, failure should always be a key part of the learning process. Even if some distance and perspective has to be applied to the ‘failure’ to learn the lesson.
This got me thinking about the mistakes I’ve made in the past and what I learned from them. We are all different, and all human, so I guess you've made a few mistakes along the way too, just different ones than me. If you have never made any mistakes, then you really don’t need to read this, just go off and do whatever you want to do – you already have all the answers.
Quitting Too Soon
Back in the day, the day being the 80’s (mullets, yuppies and Sheena Easton!), I started a computer business with two friends (business partners). We concentrated on selling software and hardware, programming and training.
This was all before Windows and Microsoft Office (yes, there was such a time). For a while everything was hunky-dory, we sold products, training and programs, then we ran into a few problems. Some of these problems were of our own making (being a little too ambitious/taking on more than we could cope with) and some were not (supply problems/competing with the big boys). Our train derailed. I was despondent, our friendships where barely holding together, and for me enough was enough. We had a final meeting, called it a day and folded our company.
It took me a long while to get over that.
I went back to looking for work in the ‘real world’, eventually getting a job as a bar manager for a couple of years.
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Failure in Perspective
What I have learned since from the experience is that I quit too soon.
Our friendships were down the pan. We had creditors chasing us, and our egos had taken a big bruising.
The problem was that in my head I had quit before that final meeting and that was my mistake.
The reason it was a mistake is, that only two out of the three aspects of our business had caused our demise.
When selling Hardware and Software, we were at the mercy of our wholesalers and manufacturers. So when there was a major problem at the manufacturers, the wholesalers sold what stock they had to their biggest customers. We were left out in the cold.
When producing Software, we over–stretched ourselves and promised something we were incapable, at that time, of delivering – not good for credibility.
The one area that was solid was the Training – this area had been consistent, and taken in isolation, had very few overheads as the training was done on the client’s own computers at the client’s premises. Training had the highest profit margins because of the low overheads and was basically propping up the other areas of the business.
So when we had that last meeting it shouldn’t have been a quitting meeting, it should have been a ‘re-focus and move forward meeting’. What we should have done is built a strategy which focused on the more profitable area of Training to turn the business around.
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I’m still making loads of mistakes now, but quitting before I need to is one I try not to repeat too often.
Sometimes it pays to step away from the project you are involved with (especially if it looks like it’s going south!). Try to get some perspective on it by deferring that final decision to quit, until you can look at the problems involved with less emotion. Maybe talk it through with someone you trust and get their viewpoint.
We all learn from our mistakes (experience), sometimes slowly (as Brian Houston says). These days I try to speed up the process by stepping away from the problems to get some perspective of my own, or learn from the mistakes and successes (acquiring wisdom) of others. This, I find, helps to speed up the learning process. The bottom line is we all make mistakes, so why not make them fast, learn from them quickly and keep on keeping on!