Failure is Not an Option (But Sometimes It Happens Anyway)

A few years back, I attended a presentation by a PR guy about a nifty product launch that included a particularly clever stunt. His firm also landed a front-page story in USA Today for the new product. During Q & A, when asked about sales, he mentioned that the product had had numerous shortcomings and was quickly pulled from the market.

During my radio days, the legendary Dick Clark came to my station to plug a new daily game show he was hosting. When I opened our chat with a bit of puffery, mentioning all his many successes, he responded by humbly pointing out that he had had his share of failed projects as well. The game show, by the way, lasted just one season.

A woman who consulted businesses nationwide on reducing their energy costs had success stories from several clients. When she booked an event space for a daylong conference in St. Louis to share some of her knowledge, she promoted it with an expensive print ad in a local publication. She got almost zero response from the ad and filled some of the seats—though not nearly as many as she’d envisioned—by making phone calls to prospective attendees.

There are few slam-dunks in business. Deals that make sense for all parties can be dumped for the flimsiest of reasons. Killer marketing plans can be wiped out when a supplier has distribution problems. A PR pitch that’s absolutely perfect for a particular journalist or broadcaster can be turned away because of something just a bit better is in his or her inbox.

Even when you’ve done market testing, even when you’ve double-checked and triple-checked, even when all signs point to glorious success, things can go awry. It happens to everybody. When it happens to you, try to figure out why so you can learn from the experience. Then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on to fight another day.




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One thought on “Failure is Not an Option (But Sometimes It Happens Anyway)

  1. Joe Mueller says:

    Good post, David. It seems like I’ve been reading a lot in the business media about leadership and failure during the last few weeks. Fail fast. Learn from failure. Failures foster success.
    I’ve had the blessing this week of visiting two great men in hospice care in their final days and hours of life. Looking back on their lives, these men and their families talked about their journey. They were filled with joy and sorrow, success and failure. And I left them with the resilience that you mentioned in your last sentence.
    You got it right.
    During the journey and at the end, the effort to go on is what counts.

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