Businesswoman looking at sign of success or failure

Failure – The Road to Success

“Failure is not an option”.

That famous line was delivered by the Mission Commander of Apollo 13, and was immortalized in the movie of the same name some 20 years later. It was a movie about the failed Apollo mission to the moon that in one event showed one of the worst case scenarios of a mission and also the most successful and elevated work done by the crew.

I attended another Coaches Site conference recently and heard from some of the leaders in Professional Hockey. We heard from NHL Coaches, AHL hockey coaches, experts on conditioning and specific hockey skills – i.e.: Shooting.

I remember the presentation by the Canadian Special Forces guy last year though.

His message still sticks with me.

Good players strive for success. Great players strive for failure!

Now – you really have to listen to a guy who trains Special Forces. These guys chew shards of raw metal for breakfast, take whitewater rapids on their commutes to work, and practice parkour when they have to go between buildings for a meeting.

So when this guy is saying that failure IS an option – and a preferable one – you listen. You listen when he says that failure is a necessary ingredient for success!

If there was ever a guy who achieved more success from more failures it had to be Abraham Lincoln. Just maybe that’s what it takes to keep not only yourself and your family together… but an entire country together!

Last night I was in the line-up at the grocery store and connecting with a friend. He was telling me about a guy he met who invented and created a major liquor brand across North America. I told him I met the same guy. The problem was… they were different guys.

You see…

Success has many fathers, but Failure is an orphan!

I mean who goes into a meeting and says…

“Yep I am responsible for the failure of Duncan Hines Crispy Chewy cookies in North Alberta in the 1980s.”

Well, it was sort of the way I felt for a few weeks until I realized that they had failed across North America. So I didn’t feel quite as bad picking up all the outdated cookies with my cube van, but I did feel bad for hitting the big automatic door to the warehouse… my truck driving career was short, alas.

I also sold Orange Crush, which Procter and Gamble fumbled and had to sell to Schweppes.

And who could forget Duncan Hines cake mixes. They sold that off, because of course no one bakes anymore. They just have an App on your iPhone where you go to some part of the kitchen and a virtually reality cake appears magically. You start salivating and enjoying it – the moist flavor and everything. But best of all… no calories!!

And not to forget Citrus Hill Orange Juice.

I was part of the ‘Killer C’ gang at Procter & Gamble – Cookies, Cakes, Crush and Citrus Hill. Felt like a loser until I realized that they were using Alberta as a bit of a test market for new products. I just wish they would have told me…. as until then, it was sort of felt like

‘Hey Murray, we have this nice new rocket we are taking to the moon… and there is this extra seat available… we need a navigator… hey, and don’t worry about that number 13 on the side!”

‘Dumpity–doo… here I go!

But I did have failures.

I was somewhat insufferable as a management trainee. I didn’t stop for lunch with one of my new recruits one day. My bosses told me that employees should be allowed to eat.

I failed at one of my first district manager gigs with the E&J Gallo wine business. I saw everyone as a staffer… not a complete person.

I worked just seven months at a private colleges business before both they, and I, realized that it wasn’t a fit.

Sometimes I failed in my dealings with some of my staff. Other times in my dealings with colleagues. I also failed a few times in the way I worked with my bosses.

I couldn’t find a way to break out to build a CRM practice when I worked for some very nice guys out of Seattle.

Sometimes I got caught up in the politics of things, and didn’t focus enough on what was important – which was customers. When you are younger your ambition can take hold of you at the expense of realizing that while you are a competitor at heart… you don’t have to compete all the time, everywhere, with everyone.

I once spelled ‘rapport’, as ‘rapour’ when I wrote an emotional letter to the distribution group at Procter & Gamble – who shorted 950 cases on my 1150 case sale to Safeway (grrr!)!

I accidentally phoned into the wrong code and had three pallets of 54 cases of cookies delivered to a small drug store in Camrose – when they were expecting three little boxes of four-pack cookies for their counter top.

Sometimes you have to laugh at your failures because it would hurt too much otherwise. As a teenager, we lost the provincial (state) finals in hockey to the same team three years in a row!!!

Now that I lead a trucking software company I have learned to embrace failure. I smile when I make mistakes. I laugh at the odd cluster… stuff. But more importantly, I have faith in the internal improvement mechanism that we have in our people. I like the fact that as a SaaS software business that it’s built around continuous improvement. I now know that building a better trucking software application and freight brokerage application is a daily thing. I know that building better relationships with customers will come with hiccups… but I know we will always learn from our failures and we will get better.

How do I know this?

Because we have built the mechanisms to find out where we have failed – customer surveys, bug tracking software, beta-testing of the application, former customer surveys, trusting the judgment of our people – where we find out.

  • What should I/we stop doing?
  • What should I/we start doing?
  • What should I/we continue doing?

When Apollo 11 first landed on the moon it was off course 85% of the time. In space you lack the fundamental ability to keep things on course – a magnetic north pole I believe. However they built the necessary mechanisms for the lunar module so that it would constantly correct course.

You see, while failure wasn’t an option, it was an inevitability. And because of that they built the right systems and processes, and the right mental mindset, right into their success model!