It is part of business & of life in general, things go wrong all the time, it is just a lesson you need to accept and the earlier you do that, the better it will probably be for everyone involved.
Now more than ever in the world, there seems to be a lot more going wrong than right, we are in the middle of Lockdown number 3, it is January, it is cold, wet and it seems every time you look at the news, there is a fresh hell happening somewhere (looking at you America & Catholic Church). 2021 has picked up where 2020 left off.
In this darkness & seemingly never-ending COVID-19 situation, I for one am hopeful, news of vaccines being distributed to people around the world is encouraging & it seems that we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter your opinion on how well it has been handled by the powers that be.
There is a little bit of an analogy between this and when things begin to go wrong in business for people, obviously, not to the same worldwide impact, that would be crazy but for the people going through it, the same feelings of anxiety, panic & frustration are just as real. It can feel like you are swimming aimlessly against the tide, but it is a rite of passage in a lot of ways.
Especially if you have not gone through a negative experience in your business previously, I am not talking about a bad experience with a client from hell or something outside of your remit, I am talking about mistakes you make that directly impact your business, they are inevitable and the sooner you accept you will make big mistakes & admit they are of your own making, it will open you up to a whole new sphere of thinking & growth as a person.
I have gone through it, everyone I know/admire has & as such it typically happens in the early days of your entrepreneurial adventure, generally because of a lack of experience.
You are led by passion rather than logic; this is not necessarily a bad thing; passion is arguably the most powerful driving force that any business needs but in the early days it can blind you to your own mistakes & the blind spots in your business. The key is learning from these mistakes, embracing them, and then merging this knowledge with your passion, that is where the growth happens.
Even the most influential entrepreneur of our time, Mark Zuckerberg has spoken about questions he received about the growth of Facebook & his experience with mistakes. While none of us is going to create the next Facebook, the advice applies to any endeavour in life be it business, sport, or whatever realm you are trying to advance in.
“Often, I think, people ask what mistakes you should avoid making,” he said. “My answer to that question is: Don’t even bother trying to avoid mistakes because you’re going to make tons of mistakes. The important thing is learning quickly from whatever mistakes you make and not giving up.
There are things every single year of Facebook’s existence that could have killed us or made it so that it just seemed like moving forward and making a lot of progress just seemed intractable, but you bounce back, and you learn. Nothing is impossible, you just have to keep running through the walls.”
It is easy to imagine that ultra-successful people like Zuckerberg, Musk etc have always had that magic touch when everything they do turns to gold. They are almost cartoon-like figures they are so outlandishly successful, but the reality is that they too have messed up and failed, in a very public manner a lot of the time.
They just fail better than most, they can take the positives from the mistakes & bad experiences and relay them into their future efforts rather than letting them define who they are. It allows them to build unwavering belief in themselves which leads to the success they have carved out.
For example, PayPal (co-founded by Elon Musk for those who do not know) believe it or not, was voted the worst business idea of the year in 1999 when it was released, Musk learned from his initial mistakes such as deciding to operate as a go-between for handheld devices to an online wallet, he went on to sell PayPal for $35 million and founded Tesla.
In 2008 Tesla was also on the brink of failure with Musk having to secure personal loans & was even sleeping on his factory floor before it turned around for him (again). He learned from these mistakes & SpaceX was born, displaying the huge benefits of making & more importantly learning from mistakes, they have the power to turn you into something better than you were before.
This is the trait I admire most in the world in people. The ability to take a bad experience and/or huge mistakes you have made, extract the positives in them and then apply them to your passion & character as a whole. I do not want to read about the 30 under 30 who have had nothing but superficial success, I want to hear about the guy who fucked his life up, lost big but then came back to the top because of it. Those are the stories I think we can all relate to.
I have mentioned it in a previous post, but I genuinely believe that the best thing that can happen to someone is to suffer a major setback in life, the earlier the better. Failing the leaving cert, not being picked for that team, a professional disappointment etc. It instils a fire in a person that I think cannot be learned. You can only get it from a crushing failure on your behalf & saying to yourself, this is a feeling I will not experience again.
With this method of thinking, you cannot make the same mistake twice. The second time you make it, it is no longer a mistake. It is a choice you make & disciplined people (the successful) realise this. I passionately believe that discipline creates freedom in this world, you must learn, act & repeat to instil this mindset and you will make mistakes, this is where the growth is.
Before you can have an exceptional skill set, you have to have the right mindset. Accept that it does not matter what happens resulting in big mistakes, what matters is what you are going to do about it.
Yet, there remain too many entrepreneurs whose own thinking has boxed themselves into problems of their own making. From crippling anxiety due to past mistakes to being afraid to make any moves in case they are the wrong ones, these conditions stem from the beliefs we hold dear - many of which are irrational and end up unwittingly exacerbating already tough situations.
It is a kind of hero or zero mentality where we as entrepreneurs swing wildly from “killing it” to suddenly feeling like imposters if not failures. All of which can happen in a truly short space of time, but if you accept that you will make mistakes, you will also get the opportunity to bounce back to showcase your talent & abilities. Just because something goes wrong in your business does not mean you are a failure; it is simply an opportunity to find what works and to grow from it. That is why business is the greatest game on Earth.
Personally speaking, from my own experience, as a young man in your 20’s, you tend to think you know everything when you do not know shit, it is only with some hindsight and a little maturity that you can look at things you were a part of and say to yourself, I messed that up, that happened because of me & what I did or did not do.
My arrogance that I could do everything is one of my biggest mistakes when I started to scale Avalanche rapidly, I had a very real problem trusting anyone to do anything that I was not personally overseeing, this was the foundation of very real problems such as client management, in the early days of Avalanche, I was obsessed with securing new clients, I believed it the lifeblood of business and if I did not secure x number of clients a month, we would go under.
At this stage, circa 2014, we were into the hundreds range of clients and everything was moving very quickly, instead of focusing on taking care of the wonderful people whose business we had secured, I was chasing the next client. I learned the harsh lesson that this is a toxic mentality in business.
It was only when we had a prominent client change their development team (rightly so) due to them not being a priority for us that I realised that we are doing this all wrong. You do not need to aggressively chase new business; you need to take care of your own house first and what you already have. It sounds incredibly simple in hindsight but I had to make the mistake to be able to see it.
We scrapped our entire client management/maintenance procedure and rebuilt it from the ground up. It is now something I am incredibly proud of and our clients aftercare is among the best in the world.
The client in question has gone on to fantastic growth & success both here and internationally and while I am delighted for them, I am mindful it was one of the mistakes I have made & they are one that got away. They were not the only client to make a change and it is something I have learned from and ensured did not happen again.
It was my mistake that I lost these clients but once I accepted it was my fault and took action, it allowed me to refocus on our procedures and thankfully, it led to us growing even more, ensuring all our clients are 100% happy at all times has led to 16x more new business than chasing it. Turning us into one of the most productive firms in the world, while also ensuring existing clients are happy at all times.
It is difficult, of course, it is, nobody wants to be the one to say they made a mistake, to admit a shortcoming so we deflect, we lash out & try to pass it to someone else, your brain protecting you from your faults by lying to you. Telling you it was everyone else’s fault. Growth and life are difficult, they are never linear but when you accept responsibility for your own mistakes & act on them, it is then that you will fly.
Do not worry, this is not some basic Freudian analysis, but rather a practical approach to very real situations. Nor is it the watery “positive thinking,” which floods your social media posts, which psychologically speaking will often crush you in the long run.
Instead, it is better when you acknowledge that frustration, disappointment & regret are healthy negative emotions that stem from personal mistakes & it is possible to overcome situations that are not ideal and go on to thrive.
They are only temporary feelings that will subside. It is then on you to ensure you avoid them from the same issues in the future. Again, strive to ensure you do not make the same mistake twice, that is simply a lack of personal growth in my humble opinion.
That being said, I have learned to let people get on with things and not to micromanage so much, I like to think I have improved a lot with several developers at Avalanche being let loose creatively while I supervise them remotely and then make suggestions rather than taking everything on myself. It leads to a much higher level of work for our clients which is always the end goal at the beginning of any project.
I think I will always micromanage to an extent; I am not even entirely comfortable giving the ball to someone else in my 5 a side game as I am worried, I will not get it back, in my head, I am only lending it to teammates so it may just be who I am as a person! With Avalanche though, I can relax slightly and let my wonderful team carry the ball a bit more, we have created the culture to get the best out of them due to mistakes in the past, another valuable lesson learned.
For those in business reading this, I leave you with this:
Accept that mistakes are going to happen for a variety of reasons, a lot (not all) of which will be of your own making.
After that, all you need to do is be ambitious. Get your shit done. Live well. Eat well. Keep your priorities straight. Your mind right & your head up. Do what you love. Gear every decision in your life especially your reaction to inevitable mistakes towards being the best in the world at what you do, humble yourself & don't settle. It is as straightforward as that.