We always hear about the value of failure, and how much there is to be learned from our mistakes. Recently, the early failures of entrepreneurs have become almost fetishized, with crushing defeats worn as badges of honor and credibility. Some business writers have even expressed alarm at a sort of cult of failure, worrying that a healthy desire to avoid failing is being replaced by an excess of comfort with it.
I think a good counterbalance to that is to spare some focus for success, which can be just as valuable a teacher. With all the emphasis on learning from our defeats, it’s as if we’ve forgotten how much insight can be gleaned from victory! Success can easily teach as much as failure, provided that success was earned, and the reasons for it understood. By seeing success as being at least as great a teacher as failure, we can build ourselves into the expert business people we want to be.
The key is to react to success with the same healthy motivation with which we react to failure. We (hopefully) see failure as a challenge to improve ourselves. Success can be exactly that, too- a call to action, a revelation about what needs to be done next. When I think about success, I find we can utilize it in three main ways:
1. Learning what worked. You might file this one under “obviously,” but it’s important to be specific. Learning how to identify the roots of success is no simple matter. It takes time, diligence, and experience to figure out exactly what led to a breakthrough in product development or a major uptick in sales. It’s not always easy to know which among several factors had the most impact, or if a certain combination of things were greater than the sum of their parts.
Whatever it turns out to be, double down on it. Once you have a good idea of what worked, figure out why it worked, and develop it. This is the only way to confirm your analysis of what worked, and extrapolate the positive impact going forward. Where had you devoted extra resources? In what order did the chain reaction produce a big result? Understanding the whys and hows of success is crucial to reproducing it without becoming stagnant in your efforts (more on that in #2).
Use analytics and customer feedback as your listening posts. Whatever it was that worked, your audience will let you know about it one way or another. Comments, emails, and most importantly statistical analyses will tell the tale of how your breakthrough happened. Was there a spike in traffic to a certain page or link? Was something shared through social media at an abnormally quick rate? The key is in the numbers. The analysis takes work, but when it sharpens your sense of what works, it’s worth it.
2. Recognizing the impact of change. Most successes are the result of some kind of innovation. Someone decided to change things up, and it produced a noticeable effect. This is related to, but different from, simply “learning what worked.” It’s recognizing that no approach, no idea, is permanently successful. It means that after you’ve identified what went right, you’ve also got to recognize that eventually you’ll need to change things up again, in order to keep growing.
When we first launched the $100 MBA Show, our innovation was in offering concise, democratized business advice. We thought that would work because it was different- but eventually we knew we’d have to be different in a different way. Eventually, we started adding Q&A weekends, guest interviews, and book reviews. We’ll continue to add new innovations to the podcast, because we know that today’s innovation won’t carry us through tomorrow.
By committing to flexibility and keeping your ideas of what makes a great product fluid, you stay on the offensive in the battle for customers. By recognizing how an innovation led to success, you can start to plan your next one. Most of all, you can learn to anticipate what parts of your business approach are in danger of growing stale, and adjust accordingly.
3. Handling success mindfully. When success strikes, the way you deal with it can either increase or limit your chances of repeating it. When the breakthrough came, did you allow it to make you complacent? Did you allow excessive confidence to slacken your efforts for the future? Did you thank the right people, and share the rewards of that success with them?
Success should be celebrated, but in a way that inspires future success. I like to put an arbitrary one-day limit on celebrations when Business Republic reaches a new milestone or makes a splash in our industry. We take the time for high-fives and back-pats, and then we get back to the mission. We see each success as one piece of a greater overall effort, one that can’t be forgotten in the rush of victory.
Success offers us our greatest chance to practice humility, calm and mindfulness. It also helps us hone our ability to stay focused when good news makes it seem like we can afford to take our eyes off the prize. Success isn’t meant to simply be enjoyed; it’s meant to be parlayed into more.
Spiking the football is fine, but the game isn’t over ‘till it’s over. Take the time to reflect on the overall mission of your business, those big-picture goals that made you want to be an entrepreneur in the first place. Channel your successes into the fulfillment of that mission statement. By staying reflective, and not being overwhelmed by your own wins, you turn each bit of good news into a stepping stone.
After all, success is a terrible thing to waste.