One of the biggest frustrations of many business owners is the fact that they are not growing.  When I ask them more about their business, I often find a business owner that is unwilling to take risks.  Taking risks is risky (brilliant, I know).  When we take risks, we’ll sometimes fail.  And when we fail, we face disappointments and challenges.  But if we don’t face disappointments and challenges…That means we’re not growing. So, simply put, a lack of disappointments means you are not growing.

In a recent blog, Ben Badlee, CEO of Badiee Development, wrote “It means we’re not taking any steps outside our comfort zones. Disappointment and failure equal future opportunities. Without trouble and disappointment, a human being will never figure out how to move on to the next stage of their life. It’s a must in our lives.”

Getting over the failure hurdle

It’s been said that “failure is not an option” (thank you Apollo 13).  And while failure is certainly not an option for NASA when they are trying to bring our astronauts home, we need to have a mindset that allows for failures.  This is just far too uncommon in business today.

I remember a project once that had a small hiccup in it.  It was fairly early in my career.  We mistakenly overlooked one item in the preparation of the estimate.  It caused a $40,000 project to go over by a couple of thousand dollars.  This project was just one of many in a multi-million business.  So in the grand scheme, it was a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the budget.

We moved forward with completing the project and reported the issue to our management.  Well, you would have thought I was the captain of the Titanic and I reported back that we had just picked up a little ice!  Meetings were held, memos were written.  My poor client, who was the one who had underestimated part of the cost was practically tied to the stake.

What type of impact do you think this had on me during this early stage of my career?  Do you think it motivated me to take risks?  Do you think it made me want to lead another project for this customer?  Certainly not!  In fact, for a while, I was terrified of the slightest bobble in any project.

Developing a Growth Mindset

To have a growth mindset means that you believe that the ability to learn is not fixed.  People with a growth mindset are much more likely to persevere when they fail.  They don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition.

Dr. Carole Dweck, of Stanford, defines the difference between a growth and fixed mindset:

“In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work.”

Developing a growth mindset requires us to not fear failure or disappointments.  It means we must embrace the chaos and risk-taking of a true entrepreneur.  Dweck gives this advice to parents, but I believe it can be applied to leaders as well.  She says to encourage others “to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.”.

Learn from your disappointments

I was having coffee the other day with a client that has been struggling in his current role.  He told me “John, I’m a winner, I love winning!”.  But the reality was, they are not winning right now.  His company is struggling.  We’re trying to figure out a solution to it. Until we do, we are trying to learn from the disappointments.  We’re looking at every opportunity that went awry.  Every customer that walked away. We’re evaluating every lead that disappeared after his initial conversation. By looking at what hasn’t worked, we are honing in on what does work.  And from that, we’ll build a winning strategy.

I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the less of the details from my childhood I remember.  But here’s the things I do not forget.  The highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.  And, to be perfectly honest, I probably remember the low points more vividly than the high ones.  Why is that?  I believe our brain chemistry simply remembers the tough times more.  I remember the wreck I had when I was 16 (both of them).  I’ve never forgotten the Christmas where my family couldn’t afford much.  I remember when my grandma died.  I remember my first breakup.  And I remember that fight I got in with my best friend.

But do you know what?  All of these experiences are what has made me who I am today. It’s the wide variety of experiences, good and bad, that weave the tapestry that is my life.  And I hope that I have learned from each and every experience.  And I also hope that I’m a little better off by surviving, persevering, and moving forward.  Mistakes intrigue me, that’s for sure.

Be willing for things to get a little messy

“Be intrigued by mistakes”.  Now that is not the material for a typical corporate tagline.  But maybe it should be.

I once worked with a church on developing their strategic plan.  One of the values they placed in high regard was “messy”.  The church’s leaders felt that to do church right, meant that things would get a little messy.  After all, they felt, working with people is never easy or simple.

I think the same can be true of companies that want to grow.  They have to be willing to take risks, accept some disappointments, and let it get a little “messy”.  But this is not an easy ask of leaders. Especially those baby boomers that grew up as part of the Apollo 13 “failure is not an option” mindset.

Moving ahead

Do you agree? Is it true that “a lack of disappointments means you are not growing”?  I believe there is a lot of validity to this.  But changing the culture to being accepting of failure and disappointments is not easy.  At FocalPoint, we teach a variety of techniques to drive change in an organization.  My personal favorite is Gleischer’s formula for change.  I’d love to show it to you.  If you want to learn more, contact me today.