My Continuing Positive Relationship with Failure

MidasMoments: Rob Slee’s Comments on the Nation

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I was running my mouth in Boston a while back, as I’m wont to do, when someone asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. The question: “How does it feel to go through life as a Midas Manager…to never fail?”

Wow. I had no idea that’s how people viewed Midas Managers. Because it couldn’t be further from reality.

Here’s the deal: Midas Managers fail at least 10 times more than anyone else. I fail maybe 20 times more than the typical person. And, here’s my New Year’s gift to you: failure is a good thing.

We all need to develop a positive relationship with failure. The key is to fail quickly and cheaply.

You knew this day would come: it’s time to take the red pill.

The traditional way of growing a business calls for doing more of the same thing….to do it the same way…and hopefully generate 10-20% more result. Traditionalism, like watching Old Yeller, makes me weep.

I maintain the traditional way relies on an incremental status quo approach; whereas, the Transformation Age now relies on an exponential revolution. The former penalizes failure; the latter depends on it.

You were warned: that splinter in your mind just got bigger.

In the traditional model, established processes are used to generate growth. Since everyone already uses the processes, everyone can be held responsible for performance within fairly strict guidelines. For instance, filling-out a certain form…calling a certain person…alerting the bureaucracy, etc. are all known and expected steps in the status quo process chain. Anyone who deviates substantially from the known processes is admonished or fired.

In the Transformation Age model, the goal of the business model is to destroy the traditional, and in the process, generate unbelievable performance metrics. I’m an investor in several businesses that generate more than $10 million in sales and $4-5 million in profits – per employee! These models are mashups of technology, intellectual capital and market opportunities.

It may well be that the future finally caught up to Ray Kurzweil’s concept of singularity…where machine intelligence goes hand-in-hand with human intelligence.

And here’s the important part of transformation: none of it will work right the first 6-8 times you try it. Early failure is a certainty.

Yes – you read it right. I’m encouraging all of you to use a model that guarantees failure.

The key is to fail quickly, quietly, and inexpensively. As I say at many of my talks: “I prefer to look like an idiot in small group settings.” And so should you.

But there’s a rub: We are not psychologically prepared for failure. The only way we will be able to adapt is to ignore that primal part of our brain that says change is bad and use our frontal lobes to rationally observe and choose a path forward.

How does one fail early and often yet recover? The answer: test, test, test; fail, fail, fail. Package your value proposition and put it out there on a limited basis. Study who is eating the dog chow and why. Adjust as needed. When you have the right mix, follow the Heads & Shoulders strategy: rinse, lather, repeat. Never getting out of the shower surprisingly translates into setting up a never-ending value proposition buffet. Geez…talk about mixing metaphors. This splinter in my mind definitely needs to go.

Do not make the traditional mistake of “building out the entire system…then launching it on an unsuspecting public.” That will break you. Why? Because H. L. Mencken had it right when he said: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” In other words, you’ll over-shoot the market the first few times out of the gate.

So repeat after me the Nicheaholic credo: Only through failure can we find success.

Now get out there and start failing.

– Rob 

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