Broaden the Definition of Failure

 
Failure sounds so final, like there is no recovery but the truth is that you can recover from all but the most catastrophic failure. As long as the end result is not death recovery is possible.

I’m not one of those pie in the sky, failure is a gift, kind of people but I do believe a lot can be learned from mistakes and that failure is far more common than we like to admit. Some people don’t want to focus on failures but I want to expand the definition and see failure even in success. If I can pick out the one thing I did wrong in an otherwise successful endeavor, I’ll be even better the next time.

FailinsuccessFailure is not the opposite of success!

Without a crystal ball it’s easy to think of every setback as a catastrophe but the reality is that it’s probably just a bump in the road.

When my most requested massage therapist quit I thought my spa business was doomed, that my descent into bankruptcy was beginning (yes I can be over dramatic sometimes). The reality was that we had many capable and skilled therapists who could and did pick up the slack. Instead of bankruptcy, our revenue increased every week after her departure.

But there was still failure in this situation. I’m not sure the outcome would have been any different but I could have worked smarter to keep her rather than letting my stubbornness get in the way.

Later when another therapist was showing up late, calling out, and otherwise being disruptive, I was less worried. Again she was our most requested therapist but I knew we’d be just fine without her. I had many conversations with her to discover the source of her behavior but to no avail. The outcome was the same, other capable therapists took up the slack and revenue stayed on its upward trajectory.

In each case I failed in some way but I was able to manage the situation, look inside myself and come up with changes to improve myself and my business. If instead of seeing these events as failures, I just saw them as the normal course of doing business, I would not learn from them, I would not be able to make the necessary adjustments to improve my connection with my employees.

I see failure all around because my definition is broader than most, and while I sometimes panic and think the end of the world is near, I know that a solution is probably near as well.


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In This Order

 
In my first post on The RFR Principle there were three words that I think are really important: In This Order. The full quote is: “The RFR Principle says that three elements are necessary for success and they are, in this order, Risk, Failure, and Reward.

Why that order?

First comes the risk because without action, without doing, there is no risk, so risk has to come first.RFR

Failure must be next – it’s the buyer’s remorse that comes from making a decision, the worry and doubt that creeps (and sometimes speeds) in. But it’s so much more than that. Failure is the unanticipated details that come with starting something new, the deflation that follows confidence, the obstacle that from a distance only looked like a bump in the road. Nothing is flawless. No plan, no matter how well thought out and how adeptly executed, is perfect, and that is why failure must be next. The good news is it’s rarely fatal as long as you deal with it quickly and calmly.

Reward comes last and is the most tenuous of the three. It’s often not as great as expected and comes later than anticipated.

Because the RFR Process is perpetual, once the initial cycle completes, all three elements can occur simultaneously. Like electrons speeding around a nucleus, Risk, Failure, and Reward all circle Success and it’s up to you to influence their speed and trajectory.


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The RFR Principle

 
The RFR Principle says that three elements are necessary for success and they are, in this order, Risk, Failure, and Reward. The RFR Process is the continual movement of these three elements.

RFRTo quote Yoda “Do or do not. There is no try.” Doing however takes risk. Staying in bed never making an effort has no risk but also no reward. Starting a business, applying for a new job, asking someone out, all involve risk. Some risks have a high price tag and it’s those that some avoid, others rush into, and still others plan and approach sensibly.

Failure is a an option, it’s also unavoidable. Failure is not the opposite of success in spite of everything you’ve probably been told. Failure is merely a setback. You’ve taken the risk, asked the love of your life out on a date and when you try to pay your credit card is denied. You think it’s over, that she’ll never go out with you again – it feels devastating in the moment but it’s unlikely to be your last date.

Finally the last part of the RFR Principle is reward but rewards are not permanent. If you’ve taken the risk, had setbacks, failures that you thought would end it all, and still came through, then you’ve reaped the reward but it won’t last unless the process is repeated. Too many people look at the success of a reward as an end, a goal to be achieved, but it’s really just a rest stop on the hike of life.

All three elements of success revolve around each other. If one stops the whole process breaks down. Keeping those elements in motion is the willingness to ask What Next, the ambition to overcome complacency, the strength to face obstacles head on.


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Things I Wished I Asked Gary Vaynerchuk

 
the-thinker

Note: The first installment mentioned below is now live. Gary Vaynerchuk and the Escalator Question.

Part 2 is now live: Gary Vaynerchuk Knows Himself Well

Part 3 is now live: Is Gary Vaynerchuk a Risk Taker?

Starting tomorrow (Monday April 1, 2013) I’m going to break down my interview with Gary Vaynerchuk into bite sized portions, talking about what I agree with, disagree with, and how my thinking has changed. But today I’m going to look back and lament the fact that I didn’t have an hour with Gary, that I wasn’t fast enough on my feet to ask him these questions.

What does it take to change your mind?

Gary is, as he stated in my interview, self-aware. He is also a very confident person, so what does it take for him to change his mind? I change my mind a lot but I’m guided by core values that bring me back to my true self.

How do you deal with doubt?

I asked about failure and it was the only time in the interview that I felt he was annoyed by me, by my questions. Failure is not something that Gary Vaynerchuk ruminates about and yet we all experience it and we all experience doubt. How does someone I revere, someone who has been so successful, handle doubt?

I asked Gary what he hoped people who listen to my interview, and the other interviews he does, will get out of them and he said that wasn’t something he thought about. But why does he write the books, why does he make the motivational videos, why does he talk about success, winning, and entrepreneurship, if not to get people to be more proactive and successful?

What is your response to these questions and what do you think Gary’s would be? Ask him on Twitter or Facebook and let’s see if he answers. I think he will.


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Recapping 2012 Part 5 of ??

 
bullseye

Now this is funny. I began writing the introduction below in order to recap a post about failure but changed my mind. The introduction below remained but even though I selected a different post. Now the introduction doesn’t make sense but it is an excellent example of my good intentions not being executed well. Read on, it’s still a favorite post of mine!

I began this series to resurrect some of my favorite posts of 2012, to give new readers an opportunity to see what could easily have been lost to the archive. With more than 12 days before Christmas I figured I would have been much further along than the fifth installment. Oh well, my intentions were good but my execution, not so much. That’s a common thing with me, good intentions, bad execution and that is sometimes perceived as failure by others but more importantly by me. In 2012 I learned that failure is not a bad word, that much can be learned from failing and that if you never fail you aren’t attempting big enough goals.

Creativity Begets Creativity

Creativity begets creativity. If you want to be more creative then hang out with creative people, or read about them, or watch them on TV. If you want to be creative find a way to experience other people’s creativity.

I’ve seen a few tweets about something called World Creativity and Innovation Week. I’m too busy to look up what that is because I’m exploring how it can help me. A friend tweeted this:

Creativity Tweet

Curious exploration

Being a curious person I clicked the link and then clicked the second story in the list which took me to a post by Mike Brown. In his post Mr. Brown told a story about seeing a poster called Peter’s Laws which he modified and turned into questions to spark creativity.Peter's Laws

Again being curious I wondered what the origin of Peter’s Laws was. A Google search later I had my answer with this webpage. Peter Diamandis is the founder and chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation which is most famous for their $10,000,000 Ansari X PRIZE for private space flight which Burt Rutan won.

Back to Peter’s Laws

A couple of the laws caught my eye because they fit so nicely with the concepts in What Next.

One law reads “When given a choice…take both!!” and that is an essential part of asking What Wext. You can walk multiple paths in life – we all do it as spouses, parents, employees, business people, and friends. What successful people do is excel on multiple paths and that takes dedication and work. If you aren’t dedicated and/or aren’t willing to work, then you won’t succeed.

The Peter’s Law that immediately follows the one above is “Multiple projects lead to multiple successes” and again we have the key point of What Next. The do one thing well concept is just as wrong as the jack of all trades master of none concept. Who says you can’t do lots of things really well or at least hire people who can?

Back to Creativity

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write my next blog post about but reading Mike Brown’s post and being curious enough to do a little research sparked my creativity and led me to write this, proving that creativity begets creativity. The same can be said about the other traits of What Next: curiosity begets curiosity, adventure begets adventure, action begets action, and success begets success. If you want any of those things then get to know people who exhibit those traits and start spending time with them.

As another of Peter’s Laws states “When faced without a challenge, make one” this is your challenge, to succeed, so what are you going to do about it?


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Regrets Lead Backward

 
Do you live your life looking back or do you look forward to what will be?

Regret DemotivatorThere are two reasons I don’t have any regrets in life. The first reason is that I prefer looking forward and believe that focusing on regrets is like driving while only looking in the rear view mirror.

The other reason I have no regrets is because the decisions I made in the past were correct at the time, they may be wrong now but back when I made them, the decision was right (as far as I knew). Because I only had so much information at the time I made the best choice I could and there’s nothing to regret about that. If now, after time has passed, I find flaws in my reasoning or better options, there’s nothing I can do about it. Sure, I wish I knew then what I know now, but the fact is I didn’t know it and no amount of wishing will change that.

I suspect most people have regrets about things they didn’t do rather than things they did and that’s why I’m more adventurous than most people I know, why I’ll explore more options, and try different things. I’ve pointed out before that I’ve had more failures then successes but what did those failures cost? Not much if I was smart about it, but what I gained was experience and knowledge. Being a self published author, I spent far more money writing my first book then I made, but I learned how to write a book. What I don’t do is look back and regret that first book (I also don’t recommend it) because there was value in the experience. (I do however recommend the second book What Next A Proactive Approach to Success).

Like the driving analogy I used earlier I do look in the rear view mirror from time to time but just to learn from the experiences I had in the past, not to beat myself up over them.

Do you have regrets? Why? Rather than feeling bad about the choices you made, understand that you have experience and that lesson will help you avoid mistakes in the future. You can start every sentence with I should have or I could have or you can start every sentence with I will, it’s up to you.


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Prove Them Wrong!

 
Andy Murray with trophyFor any tennis fans out there I know I’m not being a spoiler to tell you that Andy Murray won his first major tournament Monday when he beat Novak Djokavic in an amazing five set match at the US Open. There were plenty of people who thought he couldn’t do it, didn’t have the extra little something to be a champion. I confess I also felt that at times including Monday evening as I saw his decisive lead chipped away forcing a fifth set.

We all face naysayers and our own doubts, but the people who persevere are the ones who keep coming back, tournament after tournament, failure after failure. These people believe in something no one else does (at least it sometimes feels like no one else believes).

I have two stories relating to that which I’d like to share. The first takes place in the principal’s office of my middle school when I was in 7th grade. I was not a very good student back then. I rarely did my homework prompting many parent teacher conferences and frustrating my parents. My science teacher, Mrs. Gillen (I still remember her name), was also quite frustrated with me. On this occasion she took me to the principal’s office to try to talk some sense into me. I remember her words very clearly. She said that I needed to apply myself, get better grades or I was in danger of having Brain“my brain atrophy.” Mrs. Gillen then asked if I knew what atrophy meant. I did and defined it for her. I think she was as shocked with my knowledge as I was with her idiotic statement. I knew my brain was just fine and that my real problem was boredom.

Needless to say, my brain did not atrophy and I have gone on to be quite successful in spite of Mrs. Gillen’s dire predictions that I wouldn’t. The second story is much more recent and involves a very embarrassing  mistake on my part.

Two years after accepting a new job with an increased salary I noticed that I wasn’t being paid properly, that I was short several thousand dollars a year. Yes it took me two years to realize this – as I said embarrassing. The company’s response was “too bad.” Unless I could prove that I was being paid wrong they wouldn’t do anything about it. In one meeting an executive said to me “after all the nice things I’ve said about you to (the president of the company) what do I say now? AJ’s still a good guy but he’s apparently not good with money?”

MoneyI smiled because I knew that was so far from the truth that it was indeed laughable, and said, “Well that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to think what you want but that doesn’t change the fact that you aren’t honoring the agreement I entered when I took this job.” I was able to prove my case and got the back pay I deserved.

In both of those examples the people I was dealing with had very little confidence in me but I kept moving forward, working to improve myself and achieve the desired outcome on my terms. It is hard when you feel isolated but that’s exactly when you need your inner voice to come through loud and clear. I’m sure Andy Murray had doubts, was fearful and nervous, but he stayed focused and knew that a positive outcome was still very possible. The same goes for you in whatever is giving you pause right now.

It’s up to you to prove the doubters wrong so what are you waiting for?


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Implementation Validation

 
The test of any plan is to implement it. How do you feel about it? Is it going as you expected or are there minor (or large) obstacles along the way? Maybe the plan falls apart completely or maybe you find an even better solution.

I’m a big proponent of multiple paths to the same destination; I pick my favorite, Plan A, but then set about working on Plan B, and then Plan C, and even a Plan D and Plan E. Have as many plans as you canEach one gets more desperate, I mean creative, but the point is that each plan is an escape route, a hedge against failure.

Implementing a plan means you believe in it, that you’re confident it will lead to the place you want to be. That can be scary sometimes as you second guess yourself and doubt creeps in. Doubt is OK, however, because it keeps you honest as you must justify each decision again and reevaluate it’s effectiveness. Putting a plan into action is not a exercise in rigidity, it about fluidity and flexibility.

Starting any business takes capital in spite of the headlines like “How to start the next Google with just $100.” As I begin funding a new venture I am testing the various plans I put in place over the years. One thing I’m learning is that it’s hard, mentally, to actually implement a plan.

I began selling stock to build a base of capital but I find myself wondering if now, the moment I’m hitting the sell button, is the right time. If you have a plan and believe in it, you won’t care about that one moment or those few dollars because you’re focused on the big picture, on progress. I hit the button and moved the plan forward.


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Success is Not Linear

 
The phrase two steps forward, one step back epitomizes the difficult and sometimes random nature of success. Things can seem like they’re going well and suddenly a setback or obstacle comes out of nowhere and all the hard work to get where you are seems in jeopardy.

Scatter Chart 2If you’ve ever seen a scatter chart that is what success really looks like – some highs, some lows, and some direct hits scattered around a target or goal. As I embark on my latest What Next plan I’m seeing this in practice. Certain assumptions are being challenged or proven completely wrong while others are going as planned.

Sometimes one of the lows feels like you’ve taken two steps back but only one step forward. Get used to it because that is exactly what will happen. Remember, however, that there will be times that you also feel like you’ve taken five steps Scatter Chart Trend Lineforward and one step back. It’s the trend line that makes the difference. This same chart with a line running through the center shows that in spite of setbacks progress can and does continue.

It’s when the line begins to dip and there are more lows than there are highs that things need to change. Take setbacks in stride but keep a watch on the trend line.


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Imperfect

 
I’ll start with the bad news: to feel good about yourself, to have a sense of accomplishment, you have to set the bar high. The good news is that no matter how high you set the bar, you define success. For example, if you set a goal to reach the level of president in your company, a difficult goal, but only make it to vice president, you can decide whether you were successful or not.

This is a concept that is explored in my latest obsession called “Failure Club” a web TV show with Morgan Spurlock. The idea of failure club is to push yourself so hard that it’s almost impossible to succeed. An example from the show is Liz who wants to start a high-end handyman business and have 10,000 clients in one year. This is a lofty goal and if she only makes it to 5,000 clients she’ll have failed, or will she? The answer to that question is up to her.

By pushing ourselves, and setting difficult goals we really understand our limitations, our strengths and weaknesses. We define the line between perfection and imperfection. I thought about this after seeing this tweet from Greg (@StrategicMonk) during the #Inspirechat tweetchat.

Imperfection Tweet

Race FinishSurviving imperfection is what we all do on a regular basis and that’s good because it means we’re challenging ourselves as we strive for perfection. Think of an athlete missing first place by a small margin – that’s surviving imperfection because it was a learning experience.

The other part of Greg’s tweet is trusting yourself and confidence is a big part of that. Confidence in your ability and confidence that while you didn’t reach you initial goal you still succeeded. Here’s my story, a story only friends and family know, until now.

The Longest Day

After becoming an avid cyclist I set a goal of doing a ride called the longest day. The ride was so named because it was usually held on the weekend closest to June 21, the summer solstice. Oh and because it was a 200 mile one day bike ride from the northernmost part of NJ to the southernmost part of NJ (see my crude drawing of the route).LongestDay

I trained long and hard for the ride (it wasn’t a race) putting in over 1200 miles in the months prior to the Longest Day. I was ready and I was confident. The night before the ride we all met at the hotel we’d sleep at so we could start at 4:30 the next morning. I was on a team with three others and we had one support vehicle following us. My wife would join us half way with a second support vehicle.

It was cold as we started riding at 5am but at least it wasn’t raining yet. By the time the sun came up the rain started and we rode mile after mile in some very heavy rain. There were some breaks including a glorious two hours of bright sunlight and heat. Then the thunderstorms came. We tried waiting them out but made the decision to finish the ride. That’s when my teammates made a decision I wasn’t comfortable with.

Drafting

In cycling, the practice of drafting is riding very closely behind the rider in front of you making your ride easier because there is less wind resistance. If you can ride behind something bigger, say a truck, then it will be even easier. My teammates decided to draft one of our support vehicles, I refused. The roads were wet, the rain was torrential, and riding that closely behind a truck just wasn’t safe in my eyes, not to mention the fact that it felt a lot like cheating. Since it wasn’t a race I felt I’d be cheating myself out of the effort I knew I trained for.

I watched as my teammates sped away in the distance and I kept rolling on. Because of all the delays the hour was getting late and it was getting dark. My wife kept her truck behind me to block me from speeding cars. Annoyed that she was driving slow the cars would swerve around her getting much too close to me for her comfort.

The End

Finally at 8:30pm Julie pulls along side me and asks, “How do you feel?”

“I feel fine. Why”

“Can you finish” she asked.

“Of course, it’s just five more miles!” That’s when she dropped the bomb.

“Then get in the truck. You proved you can do it but one of these cars is going to hit you and I’m really worried.” We argued a bit but I could see the concern on her face so at 195 miles into a 200 mile bike ride I stopped. My teammates made it to the finish line but I feel I completed the task while they failed.

What do you think?


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