Hi. My name is Mike. I’m a failure in business.
Now, I don’t really believe I’m a failure in general, or a failure in business at all. But, I do mean that I fail more than I succeed. And that can mean I don’t get the exact outcome that I desire or need, or I just flat-out lose. That means failure, whether minor, major or anything in between.
A few analogies:
1) Pro baseball players routinely fail at least 7 out of 10 times at the plate. That makes them a .300 hitter. Usually, if you hit .300, you are considered a great hitter especially if you do it consistently year after year. Yet, by the books, players fail more than they succeed at the plate and there is no player in history that has bucked that trend with any statistical significance.
2) Direct marketing is an industry full of failure. Have you seen or read about conversion rates? Offline or online, if you get 1-2% response on your campaigns, that usually means it is a major success. 98 out of 100 people could not pay attention to your marketing, but if you get two out of 100 to, you’re in business.
3) Most Hollywood movies fail. And by that, I mean “don’t make money” at the high side, and are “miserable failures” on the low. Whether they go straight to DVD or hit the big screen and flop, most movies that are produced don’t turn into The Hunger Games or Titanic or any of the Harry Potter‘s.
I could go on, but my point encompasses two things: Perspective; and your measure of success. In baseball terms, 3 out of 10 is pretty good. In direct marketing terms, 3 out of 10 is pretty damn good. In Hollywood, 3 out of 10 is really doggone good.
For most, by the very exact definition, we fail more than we win even when there are shades of grey involved. The key is to make the most out of the wins, and not get too low when we lose. My old tennis coach in college used to say “you’re never as good as your best match and never as bad as your worst match.” The truth and reality is always somewhere in between. That’s called perspective.
The second part is that I’ve always measured success according to myself in my own bubble, and I think that is key. Baseball players have this .300 batting average to kind of judge themselves with. Direct marketing response rates (though in decline with every passing year it seems), same thing. Hollywood blockbusters, same thing. The problem with this is the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you’re going to close 2 out of 10 new deals, or renew 4 out of 10 new clients…guess what? You’ll probably do exactly that. You’ll do what you feel you’re “destined” to do, and there is science to back that up.
I got asked the other day how I gauged the success of our business, based on new client adoption and client renewal. I answered that we’ve failed. The person on the phone paused and said “oh….I’m so sorry.” I said “why?” She said, “well, no one likes to fail.” I said “it depends on how you measure it. We’ve failed exactly one time in dozens of efforts of varying nature. So, we’re failures. It’s up to other people to decide whether our failure rate is too much or too little.”
She was stunned. She said things like “we were wildly successful by any measure” and I responded with things like “who is setting these metrics?” We do have minor failures every single day. I have failures every day. I like to think I, and we, have many successes every day. It is simply about perception and how you measure it.
And that’s really my point. If you’re gauging a successful career, or a successful company, or a successful job, have perspective and make sure that you set the measure of success. Let’s not get too far off the point here, because I’m not at all a proponent of setting low standards and calling yourself successful because of it. But, I do see so many people and businesses that think they’re failures because of wrong perception and because of absolutely wrong measures of success. It is unfortunate because if you go by what other people think you should do, you will likely never win.
Introspection is important here, and making sure you’re setting baselines and a very high measure of success are essential. While you can’t compare your success to that of an MLB ballplayer, or a direct marketing campaign, you should be able to set important parameters that matter to you, your industry or your career that can lead to greater success. Not just the clinical term of “success rates”, but true success in a much broader way.