The Lessons of Success and Failure

Failures and disappointments present the opportunity to adjust, refocus and do it better next time.

Henry Ford once said, "Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently." Every manager has experienced success and failure, and while there's no doubt that success is better, failures and disappointments present the opportunity to adjust, refocus and do it better next time. Consider the following hard-earned wisdom to help you do just that.

Lesson 1: Initial planning is critical

When you are excited about a new concept, it's tempting to plunge in with both feet, roll up your sleeves and get busy. But hold your horses. Before you invest any time, energy and capital on your big idea, take a step back and consider your ultimate goal. What will success look like? What equipment is essential? Do you have the staff available to make this new idea happen? How will you measure your project's profitability? Make your vision of the goal as vivid and detailed as possible, then break it down to the baby steps you must take to reach it. Initial planning will help you narrow the scope of your project, which will allow you to identify ways to reduce your costs and avoid problems down the road. Don't end up thinking, "If only we had anticipated that!" Anticipate it.

Lesson 2: Feed the good dog

Success coach Sid Smith tells a story about a Native American elder who once described his own inner struggles in this manner: "Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time." When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, "The one I feed the most." In other words, one of the keys to success is to focus your time and energy on the things that produce positive results. If you examine projects that have been unsuccessful, chances are that you will discover that you or your staff wasted precious resources on tasks that didn't contribute to your overall objective. Without good initial planning, of course, you won't have a clear objective to begin with (see Lesson 1).

Lesson 3: It's impossible for one person to do it all

Dick Enrico, current owner of 2nd Wind Exercise Equipment of Minneapolis, Minn., spent 46 years as an entrepreneur, during which he started about 20 businesses. One of the lessons he learned seems obvious: One person cannot do everything (from sales to accounting to sweeping up, etc.). If you have difficulty delegating, get over it! Figure out what you do best, and assign the rest to talented members of your staff.

Lesson 4: History is always the same until it is different

Call it the Orson Welles Syndrome: Some entrepreneurs experience terrific and often unexpected success in their first business, only to become frustrated when the next home run seems impossible to hit. Some experts say that this situation can turn into a vicious cycle, because when success does not come, entrepreneurs panic and try to force ideas to work. They lose focus and stifle their creativity.

The smashing success you experienced in one project indicates that you and your staff are capable of great things. If your subsequent projects fall short, it's time for some analysis. Has the market changed? Have you lost a popular instructor? Did you fail to do that critical initial planning? Are you trying to do it all by yourself? According to leadership consultant Dave Anderson, author of Up Your Business, the key is to "keep the hunger and stay in attack mode."


Adams, J. Try Try Again. Wall Street Journal Jul. 12, 2004.

Bounds, G. Lessons of Success and Failure. Wall Street Journal Jul. 12, 2004.

Smith, S. Feeling a Little Stretched? Five Ways to Stop Things From Falling Through the Cracks. The CEO Refresher!sssstretched.html.

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