Failure: Turn This Enemy Into A “Frenemy”

In my 20s, while Studio Chief of Columbia Pictures, I was at the center of numerous financially and critically successful films. My hubris led me to believe that continuing this trajectory was a forgone conclusion. As my career progressed, a funny thing happened: I failed, and I failed a lot! And it was damn painful.

My failures weren’t just in filmed entertainment, they accompanied me in products, sports, new media, brands, mergers and acquisitions. Wouldn’t it be great to have a strategy to “just make hits” or win every game? However, in entertainment, where it’s estimated that six out of ten movies fail, and in sports, where the Major League Baseball season consists of 162 games before the post season, and where the NBA season consists of 82 games, the reality is failure is going to be a constant and uninvited companion.

The paradox is that to truly create sustained success you will inevitably experience failure. The trick is to turn this enemy into a “frenemy.” I discovered that having a process for managing this paradox was the most important factor in that challenge. Here are my top 7 takeaways for turning failure into success.

  • Attitude trumps aptitude.

    Recognizing that you’re not master of the universe, but you are the master of your attitude, allows you take the benefit of what you’ve learned from the failure to help you generate the next success. Every failure is an opportunity to listen to your customers, friends, colleagues, employees and competitors, learn from their feedback and your mistakes, and leverage these insights into future successes. Failure cannot be a reason to become risk-averse because the irony is the farther you move from the risk, the more likely you will fail to get the reward.

  • Certainty is an illusion.

    Give it up. The business universe is non-linear, disruptive and changing at lightning-fast speed. The more you try to control and preserve the status quo, the faster you will fail. The more you not only ride the change, but drive it, the more your success percentage will catapult along with the joy you will likely experience.

  • Try to have more than one egg in one basket.

    You don’t necessarily know what will fail, when, and if there can be any rehabilitation. But, by working multiple opportunities you can move the statistics in your favor.

  • Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

    Spending your financial, reputational, intellectual, emotional, and experiential capital when failure is inevitable is the worst use of your resources. If the opportunity has disappeared, you should, too.

  • Fail fast.

    If you’re not failing on occasion, you’re not pushing the envelope hard enough. The trick is to fail fast, to recognize failure as early as possible in the process, and to course correct even faster.

  • Use your fear of failure to catalyze rather than paralyze you.

    While fear is an innate survival mechanism, it’s actually the temporal lobe of our brain, the amygdala, filtering through the data we’re bombarded with, assessing it, and triggering an emotional response like fight or flight. Use it to energize rather than enervate you. Fear signals that change is at hand which is exactly what today’s business environment calls for.

  • Have a mantra.

    When things gets tough and the risk of failure feels daunting, find an expression that triggers your resiliency and your drive that will help turn your trials and tribulations into triumphs. I use “it’s not over ‘til it’s over and I’ll decide when it’s over.”

Photo: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by BeaulawrenceRemix: LinkedIn