Failure is a Learning Success

In our work, and personal lives, we’re constantly confronted with the question – whether stated or merely implied – will this work (or be good)?

This applies to marketing strategies, finding a favorite lunch spot, choosing a job, choosing an employee, deciding which route to take home, etc.  It’s pretty much the question you get across the board whenever trying (or reconsidering) something.

We can hedge our bets on these items to varying degrees.  It’s unlikely a very indirect route will be faster than shortest distance between points A and B – but will the interstate really be faster at rush hour?  Is the subway worthwhile if you’re only going 20 blocks and need to walk 8 to get to and from the stations (provided you walk at a decent clip and the weather’s nice)?

Other choices aren’t so hedgeable.  The preferred employee lives farther away so it’s more likely they’ll be late (since they rely on things beyond their control such as mass transit, etc.), but they’re still the preferred employee, and that uncertainty still nags at you.

There are mutually exclusive marketing strategies that can be rolled out for a client and all other factors are equal.  One will likely be more successful than the other.  How do you pick (and even when you do and your selection is made – the real kick in the pants is you won’t be able to know if the other one would have been more successful).

So here it is cats & kittens – at the end of the day – most decisions with unknowable variables, particularly when they involve human opinion, or emotion (and we all want our client’s customers to be emotionally connected to the client) will more often fail than be successful.

Consider your own microcosm – how many soap brands did you try before finding “your” brand?  How many different routes to work did you try before finding the most pleasant (whether consciously or not)?  Does your preferred subway route make no sense logistically but is the best because it’s the least crowded?  While courting – how many folks did/do you flirt with before going out; how many do you go out with before becoming committed?

The reason we don’t see failure as often as we probably should is because we, as a species, mimic success.  There’s a reason all the “As Seen On TV” spots are virtually identical – that format works.  Why successful e-commerce sites frequently look very similar – they work.  There have been plenty that failed, but when a new one would start they looked at the successful sites and lifted concepts that proved to be some level of similarly successful.

Disagree? Why do you think we’ve got both moral/academic (plagerism) and legal (copyright, trademark, patent) rules against copying – because it’s natural to want success.

If you’re out there, leading the pack (whether the pack knows it or not), and trying new things – you will fail, or more accurately – be unsuccessful.  And you’ll do it frequently if you’re out there enough.

The moral of the post (and this is probably more geared towards the younger staffers out there) – don’t be afraid of failure.  Definitely don’t seek it and do your damnest to make sure you’ve researched everything – but don’t be afraid to think ahead of the curve and for Pete’s sake – just because you don’t succeed doesn’t mean you’re wrong to try.  It just means you need to try again – to find out what does work … and be that first one.

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  • http://prbreakfastclub.com/ Keith Trivitt

    Great thoughts on a subject you often see written about, but from a far too mushy (“failure is OK!” or “embrace failure”) perspective. This post reminded me of the axiom that many VCs live by in that if you invest in 100 start-ups, you’re likely to have 98 that will fail, or not have a significant return on your investment. But of the two investments that do succeed, they are likely to be hugely successful, and make the VC millions of dollars.

    It’s similar in both life and when trying to reach and influence the public. While we would all love to have every single initiative be a wild success, the reality is that life doesn’t always work that way. And no matter how many great ideas and strategies we come up with, often, it comes down to variables that are outside of our control. (Did it rain on the day your brand has a big outdoor event?; Did Apple/Facebook/”the next big thing” decide to make yet another announcement to appease their fanboys?, etc.) In those cases, our best bet as PR people is to do what we often do best: adapt and find other ways to make the situation work for our clients within the parameters of best practices and our overall campaign/client strategy.

    • http://prbreakfastclub.com PR Cog

      Hey Keith -

      Exactly right. There’s too many variables in the universe to think we’ll be able to handle them all in advance. All we can do is eliminate whatever variables we can, anticipate any problems, and the spry when problems we haven’t anticipated come up.

      Have a great one.

  • Anonymous

    You know, you can’t learn anything without failing. It isn’t supposed to be easy and if it was would we do it?

    • http://prbreakfastclub.com PR Cog

      Based on how many bad PR Pros we all come across, yeah I’m pretty sure we would still do it, still doesn’t make it right :)

  • http://twitter.com/raquel_gonzalez Raquel Gonzalez

    Thanks, PRCog! Being a “young pro,” it’s refreshing to see your parallel between possible biz failure and commuting choices — Makes you realize that every researched and well-planned effort is worth the risk. It’s not so bad after all.

    • http://prbreakfastclub.com PR Cog

      Hey Raquel -

      Glad you got something out of it. Every PR worker has their own place where they can push the envelope (or try to) and shouldn’t hesitate just because something may not work. Thanks for the read!

  • http://nikkistephan.com Nikki Stephan

    Failure was a main fear of mine when I started out in the PR industry. I won’t lie, I still let failure intimidate me at times, but what I’ve learned so far in my career is that a lesson learned results from every failure. If we learn something from every mistake or failure, then failing becomes an opportunity to improve.

    Getting into this mindset requires some major self-coaching. I’m still working on it. :)

    • http://prbreakfastclub.com PR Cog

      Hey Nikki -

      Great to hear you’re working on what’s a common problem (and perhaps even instinctual) among so many of us. Recognizing the issue is indeed the first step. Keep up the good work!

      • http://nikkistephan.com Nikki Stephan

        Thank ya. :)