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How to Learn From a Business Failure

In a long and varied career, I have spent a couple of decades in sales, sales training, sales management, and running my own businesses.

how-to-learn-from-failure

Failure Is the Slowest Way to Learn

There is a line that springs from one of the songs of the incredibly talented, but almost unknown, Irish singer/songwriter Brian Houston: ‘Failure, is that the slowest way to learn’. While there's undeniably some truth wrapped up in that sentiment, failure should always be a key part of anyone’s learning process. Perspective and distance have to be applied to the ‘failure’ to work out what the lesson might be.

Giving up Too Soon

Back in the day, the day being the '80s (mullets, yuppies and Sheena Easton!), I started a computing company with two friends (business partners). We sold software and hardware, programming and training.

how-to-learn-from-failure

This was all before Windows and Microsoft Office attained their ubiquitous dominance (yes, in the mists of antiquity, there was such a time). For few short months everything was hunky-dory, we sold products, training and programs, then we came across a small avalanche of problems. A number of these problems were of our own making (being a touch too ambitious/taking on little bit more than we could cope with) and a few weren't (supply problems/competing with ‘the big boys’).

Our train derailed.

I became despondent, and our friendships where barely holding together, and in the end, for me, enough was enough. We had a final meeting, called it ‘a day’ and folded our fledgling company after about 18 months.

It took me an awful long time to get over that.

how-to-learn-from-failure

Back to Life

Eventually, I went back into the ‘real world’, eventually getting employment as a bar manager for a few of years, while I grew my confidence back.

Putting Failure in Perspective

The lesson I learned from that experience is that I quit too soon.

Our friendships were down the pan. We had creditors chasing us, and our egos had taken a bashing.

The issue was, that in my head, I had quit before our final meeting which, in the end, was my mistake.

It was a mistake to quit too soon because only two out of the three aspects of our business had caused our demise.

how-to-learn-from-failure

When we were selling hardware or software, we were at the mercy of our wholesalers. So when there was a serious issue at the manufacturers, the wholesalers sold what stock that they had to their biggest customers. We were overlooked, and left out in the cold.

When producing Software, we over–stretched ourselves and promised something we were incapable, at that point, of delivering – not good for credibility.

The one area that was solid was the 'training' – this area had been consistent, and if looked at in isolation, had only a few overheads because the training was done on the client’s own computers at the client’s premises, we didn’t actually need an office for this part of the business, so ‘training’ had the very best profit margins due to the low overheads.

When we called that last meeting it shouldn’t have been a ‘quitting meeting’, it should are a ‘re-focus and move forward meeting’. Instead of figuring out how to wrap the business up we should have took a step back and built a new plan that focused on the more profitable area of 'Training' to get our business turned around.

Moving Forward

I’m still making a few mistakes now (only kidding, I make loads), but quitting before I have to is one I try to not repeat very often.

Sometimes it pays to distance yourself from the project you're involved with (especially if it looks like it’s heading South!), and attempt to get some perspective on things by deferring that final judgment to quit, until you can check out the issues involved less emotion. Maybe you talk it through with someone you trust and obtain their viewpoint.

how-to-learn-from-failure

We all eventually learn from our mistakes (experience), sometimes slowly (as Brian Houston says). Nowadays I attempt to speed up the method by ‘stepping away’ from the issues to gain a personal perspective, or learn from the mistakes and successes (acquiring wisdom) of others. This, I find, helps ‘speed up’ the decision process. The thing is we all make mistakes, so why not make them fast, learn from them quickly and 'keep on keeping on'.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jerry Cornelius

Comments

Jerry Cornelius (author) on November 24, 2020:

Thanks, Liz. This one make a bit of a change for me.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 24, 2020:

This is a very interesting and thought-provoking article. It's great that you can use your experience to help others through your writing.