by Jeff Shore
I was on the ice last week, getting in a little early morning practice on my hockey technique. There were a few of us out there, each doing our own thing.
One young man caught my attention. He was skating repeatedly up and down the ice, working on how to turn around and skate backwards. Skating backwards was not his failure, but the act of turning around put him on his well-padded backside again and again.
It was a few years ago that I first learned how to ice skate. In other words, a few years ago I was that guy. It made me smile – not to see his failure but to recount how far I’ve come.
I also had to smile at the very thought of just how many times I’ve experienced failure along the way. It would have been fun to count my failures from the beginning but I can only guess now. The number would be well over 1,000 times in the past few years.
And each failure was a lesson waiting to happen…if I was willing to learn…
“Oh, man – I’m not low enough on that pivot.”
“I need to kick that skate back further on the back step.”
“I need more weight on my inside blade during that turn.”
Failure always equals learning…but only if you allow it. That takes a real commitment on your part.
Break your response to failure down into four steps:
Step 1: Fail. You must. Non-negotiable and inevitable.
Step 2: Frustration. It’s okay – this can give you energy for what happens next.
Step 3: Find. Identify what happened, and what needs to change.
Step 4: Fix. Try it again, but do it better.
You might find that the first run through of those four steps does not solve the problem. No worries, because when it doesn’t work you’ll get failure. That is, you’ll be back on step one. Just follow it through and do it again.
When you learn to embrace failure, everything changes. Everything.
On that particular morning on the ice I was working on how to stop with my back foot. That probably means nothing to you, but trust me – it ain’t easy.
I probably fell ten times in 15 minutes. And I celebrated each and every fall.
When I’m coaching sales professionals, I encourage a very specific action when they stumble, fumble, stutter or just completely stop out of frustration and discomfort. I encourage a fist pump in response to all of these. That’s right, I encourage “failing” sales professionals to make a fist, raise it to shoulder level, pull it down hard and say, “YESSSSS!”
My reason for having them celebrate failure in this way is that it will help them build the habit of welcoming failure.
Have you ever learned to play an instrument? The “music” you created in those early days of learning was…well, perhaps calling it “music” is overstating it. You wouldn’t have wanted to hear what even virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma was doing to a cello when he was first learning! Do you really believe LeBron James came out of the womb dunking a basketball? Even the most skilled brain surgeon in the world effectively “killed” a few cadavers when learning their craft.
It is just the same in that branch of performance art we call “sales.” Skill development runs the path of failure, and in the absence of such failure, the only result is a plateau of mediocrity.
Try the fist pump. Celebrate failure. You can’t fail if you don’t try. And trying is change and change is progress! Require yourself to get excited with the inevitable progress that failure proves.
Fail much, my friends…and you’ll change the world.