Recovering from failure could be your finest hour.
By Fred Schebesta
You have never failed at work. ‘Failure’ can be a tremendous motivation, but all too often the word is instead wielded as a crippling misnomer that prevents people from realising their true potential. Failure implies that there is nothing left to gain from an experience once it has ended, but the truth is that the same venture which ended in disaster provides a valuable opportunity for you to find the gold you uncovered.
The stigmas around ‘failure’ are ridiculous: If you find yourself in a situation where a professional endeavour missed the mark, take the time to understand where you went wrong and rebrand both your situation and your thinking around it as a ‘flearning’ experience – a combination of failure and learning. But in order to do this, you must first be prepared to actually learn something.
I’ve had my fair share of flearnings since founding a financial comparisons site, but that means I’ve also had time to uncover the value behind why I failed. I advise all online entrepreneurs to use this process to extract the key insights from your previous attempts and saddle up for your next home run.
Step 1: Move into the digital mindset – be nimble, make significant change
When we initially set out on the journey of launching a digital start up, we poured all of our available resources into the site’s written information, then sat back and waited for the impending traffic rush. When visitors failed to even trickle in, we discovered the most important flearning lesson to date – and it applies to every online business and all digital entrepreneurs: experiment, and don’t be afraid to make massive changes.
Online business is not physical. You might end up selling a physical product, but when it comes to websites, every single person is dealing in the same currency – electricity. Don’t be afraid to make massive changes and implement wild experiments, then gauge the responses and try again. Think about it like this: significant changes are not as scary because you have an undo feature or a refresh tab. Your resources are nimble and big moves can be made or unmade with the click of a mouse; but if you find yourself stuck in a mindset that fears massive change (ever heard of the term ‘wantrepreneur’?), you may as well log off and move on.
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Step 2: Always look back
I cannot stress enough the value of group retrospectives. If you hire the right people, then you already have a key group from which you can bounce off valuable feedback. Use the momentum from launching an initiative (whether it’s a flearning or a success) to reflect on how your whole team tackled the process, and what could have been done better.
Provided you also highlight the big wins, this is a golden opportunity to harness the power of flearnings for your second time around, as a group discussion will reveal a multitude of angles from which the failures can be viewed. Was it your technology that let you down, or was your marketing investment too low? Did you factor in language and cultural barriers across different mediums?
A valuable experience we’ve had many times is when we’ve used ‘Retros’ to patch up the areas of one team with the efforts from another internal team. Using sheer brainpower from what may as well be another world of experience, we have managed to successfully motivate everyone involved into more intelligent ways of driving success.
Step 3: Mine your failure
So your efforts didn’t go as well as you wanted – or maybe they didn’t work at all. You can dig yourself a hole in the midst of this, or you can mine through it. Somewhere along this flearning there’s a key system or step you took that earned a response. While this may often be unintentional and hidden (hence the term ‘mining’) ‘failures’ cease to exist once you have applied the lessons from your mistakes into smarter, stronger, better flearnings. So don’t be afraid to ask yourself the necessary questions to get you there.
Why did you get that kick when you pulled a certain way? There’s a potential ecosystem inside that seed of response, and it must be isolated from the unusable content, otherwise it will die.
But if you nourish this seed, and give it room to grow then that same idea you accidentally uncovered may be the next big thing, all on its own. Our team has revisited failures often, and instead of embedding the remaining seeds into our next movement they’ve grown into standalone powerhouses that left us speechless. The power of mining your own work and digital efforts cannot be emphasised enough – don’t even look at competitors or their movements until you know your own material, and be prepared to make every flearning count.
Fred Schebesta is co-founder and director of finder.com.au, which helps Australians compare financial products such as credit cards and life insurance.