The Importance of Doing Things Badly

Cartoonist Hugh MacLeod has a new print available on his website and it gives a powerful message, one that’s more easily echoed than accepted.

"Failure is a Prerequisite" by Hugh MacLeod

All too often in our rush for success, we forget that failure is one of the best ways to learn anything. You can’t know what can go right till you’ve experienced firsthand what can go wrong. It’s so simple, even a kid could understand it–and it seems like these days they’re the only people who do. The rest of us are so busy making sure we don’t take unnecessary risks that we end up trying to avoid making necessary mistakes.

There’s a difference between the two.

Failure is a Mindset

You have only truly failed when you have failed to learn. Any experience you learn from can not only be counted as a success, it can also be used to your advantage in the pursuit of even greater success. There are people who miss that point and you can spot them a mile away: they will be the people who insist on taking the safest route to the lowest rung of the ladder; even if they can step higher, it involves a greater fall so why bother?

But every once in a while, even the most surefooted of us miss a step. And that’s when people who have the mindset for failure decide it happened because they did anything at all–instead of spending the time and resources to figure out exactly what went wrong, they would much rather bail completely.

So What Does Success Look Like?

Sometimes it looks like making all the right moves and commanding the limelight. Other times it looks like ducking your head down and avoiding stepping on any toes. Sometimes success means refusing to give up. Other times it means accepting something isn’t going to work for you.

But what does success never look like?

Not trying.

Speaking From Experience

At isiFederal, there’s no doubt we’re focused on winning. That’s even part of the advice we give people when they ask us about the federal space: find out if you’re better off in the commercial space instead of spending money to fail. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t made our share of mistakes.

isiFederal helps companies navigate million-dollar contracting opportunities on a regular basis–everything from finding them to bagging them to making sure they have the business processes in place for delivering on the deals they make. We’re good at what we do.

So why can’t we stop stressing on never underestimating the importance of building a relationship with the contracting officers?

Because the one time we missed it, we lost a $5.2 million dollar contract. We lost a $5.2 million dollar contract we thought we had in the bag because we had done everything else right–except this.

And there’s nothing like losing $5.2 million dollars to make sure you never forget that particular lesson.

Learning from Mistakes (Not Just Your Own)

Some mistakes are actually necessary just like some risks are actually opportunities waiting to be won. Other mistakes are just plain bad ideas! The trick is knowing how to distinguish between the two and that’s where learning comes in. Life’s too short to insist on making every mistake you possibly can make on your own, even though you’re welcome to try it. But the better part of wisdom is knowing when to listen to the advice of others.

There’s a whole lot of success we lose to the safety of never trying, simply because we don’t seek ways to learn from everything we can. Breaking away from that beaten path is the first step you can take towards a better business strategy. Right here, right now.

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