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Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Key to Success is Failure

For most of my adult life, I have read or heard people talk about positive thinking and how some people are just born winners. There is no question that positive thinking is a good thing but to me the greatest success often comes to people who have had some hard knocks, learned from it, and overcome the difficulty.

Like many New Englanders of my generation, my childhood hero was Red Sox great Ted Williams. Urban legend has it that in retirement, Ted one said that baseball “is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” Ted was right about baseball. If a guy hits .300 consistently for 10-15 years, he is a virtual lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

Actually, Ted was wrong that a .300 batting average would only make you a success in baseball. Ask any advertising agency executive about his or her new business batting average. Yes, many shops have hot streaks, but virtually no one bats .300 at new business over the long pull. If you are not talking about the three-four shops who make the cut for the creative or marketing shoot-out, then the average for everyone is much much lower than .300 as many do not make the cut at the RFP (Request for Proposal) stage.

How about the new rage in marketing--Targeting models employing Big Data?
Well, look at Groupon coupon redemptions. The number is something like six coupons out of 10,000 mailed out. Amazon does far better with their Zappos offers as they have a clear look at purchase history but still, despite the best targeting ever, the failure rate is staggering.

How about science? From the time I was able to read, I also was informed of the genius of Thomas Edison. Yet, Edison performed thousands and thousands of experiments before he had a breakthrough with electricity or movie cameras. He was quoted as saying that discovery was “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Know many investment millionaires? Most will tell you that most of their purchases lost money or were lackluster. A couple of 10 baggers (1,000% return) or one 100 bagger (10,000% return) put them on easy street.

How about those dealing with addiction? Most fail a few times before turning their lives around in re-hab. And, it is a verifiable fact that the majority of “overnight successes” in the entrepreneurial world may have struck gold on their third or fourth attempt.

Failure is so important in the business world. If you learn from your mistakes, you improve your chances significantly on your next effort. And, importantly, failure teaches you true humility which is the differentiating characteristic of many great leaders.

So, we all have failures and will continue to experience them. Analyze them and try and learn from them. Dust yourself off and get back in the game. Over the long pull, failure can be your friend.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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