This Is More Important Than Success

We have been told not to let our failures get us down, and many people believe this means we should put our failures behind us as quickly as possible and keep moving. We spend hours, days, months, examining successes and trying to emulate them and turn them into strategies.

But failing well is more important than success. Success is just success, and there’s not much more you can do; but failure is opportunity, and it will slip away if you don’t seize it.

When an effort has the result I intend, it can be for any combination of reasons, both within and beyond my control. But when I don’t get the result I’m looking for, it’s important for me to find out what I can about why I didn’t succeed, look for the variables I could have influenced, and at the very least try something different next time. If I move too quickly past my failures, I’m likely to repeat them; if I move too quickly past my successes, at worst I may forget to celebrate them. (Celebrating successes is important too–but we’ll get to that later.)

As you might have heard, the road to success is paved with failures. If you plan to succeed on a regular basis, you’ll need to learn how to pave.

Ignoring the importance of failing well doesn’t just mean repeating your mistakes. It also has an impact on your organization’s culture. Your employees tend to do less work at or above their level of competence for fear of doing it incorrectly, which means that higher-level employees and managers are left doing lower-level work. So much for “high-performance culture.”

Glossing over failures at the organization level also leads to poor communication at the individual level. If I’m trying to make the failures of my business disappear, should I really be surprised when an employee makes an enormous miscalculation and doesn’t tell me about it until the last minute? The more failure is accepted and dealt with properly, the less stigma will be attached to it and the easier it will become to handle.

It should come as no surprise that this applies to your life as well as your business. Anticipate failure and learn how to fail well, and it will lead you to a richer, wiser life.

This Is More Important Than Money

We have been taught that the primary purpose of any business is to make money (by which we mean, to produce a net profit).

Did you also know that the primary purpose of any human life is to breathe, drink, sleep, and eat?

I would like to assert that this teaching is false. Profit is not the purpose of a healthy, functional business, it’s merely a result of having one.

Do I mean that no business that pursues net profit as its highest objective can be successful? It depends on what you mean by success. I could certainly pursue profit and succeed in acquiring profit. But a con man can also make a profit. So can investors who take over a business only to shut it down and lay off thousands of workers. Thieves, murderers, warmongering rulers, and slave traders have all made profits from ethically and morally questionable activities. Are their actions justified by mere profit? And are their actions repeatable and sustainable over the long term?

For a business to be healthy, it must have a healthy profit. Not just the margin in any given quarter, but its source, its sustainability, its philosophical foundations, and perhaps most importantly, its impact on the people who made it possible–employees, customers, people in the supply chain, and so on.

If my business seeks first the good of others, and creates profit as a result, then I have begun to build a healthy, sustainable business–just as eating vegetables, breathing clean air, and sleeping well every night begin to build a healthy, sustainable body. And when I seek to expand my business, my two leading questions will be, “How can I help even more people?” and “How can I help people even more?” Such questions will guide me toward sustainable growth much better than “How can I make more money?”

(The definition of “help” can be very broad, but be careful not to fool yourself into believing that doing whatever you want is “helping.” If you can’t convince someone else within fifteen seconds that what you do is helpful, it probably isn’t.)