Success comes in many forms, but the journey to get there is rarely a simple one. There are ups and downs, twists and turns, and often an ongoing struggle of trial and error before you find success – whether it be personal or professional.
There is no “one size fits all” solution, and if you were to speak to a hundred successful individuals, they would cite for you a hundred different approaches. Yet, despite this array of issues, there are trends and patterns we can all use to our advantage, including examples of how successful folk have approached mistakes and failure.
In fact, the truth is that those you admire have built a career on the backs of mistakes and failures, learning from them and progressing a little further each time. They are no different from you and me; they are not immune to obstacles. What’s different is that they use these obstacles to their advantage.
I realised this after interviewing 163 entrepreneurs for my latest book (The Successful Mistake) about how these individuals transformed past mistakes into subsequent success. They taught me that mistakes happen regardless of money, fame or fortune, and that it’s your job to turn things around (and spot these issues before they have a chance to build).
From the anecdotes my interviewees shared, I want to share four such mistakes that you may be making right now. If you happen to be making one or more of these errors – and you allow them to continue – they potentially could transform into business-threatening failures.
If you catch them beforehand, however, they’re all often easy to fix.
1. Don’t listen to the “yes men”
When I interviewed the New York Times best-selling author Steve Olsher (What is Your What?), he told me how he built a successful online business (Liquor.com) before the dot.com boom. Because he was in the right place at the right time, Olsher said, he enjoyed a lot of success, and had many people “beating down my door.”
Investors and “experts” alike showered him with advice and promises of this and that. But, a caveat: “They wanted to see experienced CEOs and CFOs [join his company].” So, Olsher told me, when I interviewed him: “I literally signed away my management rights to the company.”
Within a few months of signing over those rights, he – and so many others – watched as the dot.com crash disrupted their lives.
Those “yes men”? They disappeared, and Olsher realised that he was the only person who could run his business. It wasn’t that he didn’t speak enough or listen enough, but rather that he didn’t filter out the noise. The takeaway? Once you build a successful company, this “noise” will surround you. It’s your job to disregard it, and get rid of those yes men. They represent a mistake that’s easy to fix when there are just a few of them. But the more there are, the harder it gets.
2. Don’t get stuck in your own head
The flip side to Olsher’s issue of listening to others is to lose yourself in your own ideas.
Few people create greatness on their own. It takes collaboration and communication, which teenage prodigy Fraser Doherty lacked during the early days of his startup, SuperJam.
Having learned how to make tasty jam from his grandmother, young Fraser began to make it and sell it around his local community as a young teen. Word took off. Local shops wanted to stock it. Fraser quickly outgrew his operations, so he decided to go “all in” and build his brand (so he could pitch to the U.K.’s major supermarkets later that year).
The teen hired a local design agency to develop his brand, but he had his own ideas and insisted they stick to them. That’s how he lost himself in his own ideas, forgetting to involve other people in the lead-up to his big pitch. When that day arrived, things didn’t go according to plan. The supermarket chains rejected him. They said no.
Devastated, Fraser had to pick up the pieces, soon realising that his own lack of communication had been the issue. He had lost himself in himself – an issue we all face at some point. Your job is to stop this from happening, and force yourself to involve others in the process.
3. Don’t play the blame game
When hardship hits, it’s easy to play the blame game (by blaming either yourself or someone else).
Tech entrepreneur Brian Foley and his team of co-founders experienced this as they committed to turning their app-idea to app-reality. They spent months designing the Buddytruk app, and after positive feedback, knew their Uber-like service would prove successful.
The problem was, nobody on their team had the experience to develop the app’s framework, so they hired a programmer.This tech expert soon finished the app, but the result fell short of Foley’s and the team’s expectations.
“At first, we blamed the developer,” Foley told me, during our interview. “They didn’t a do a good job, but then as we thought about the situation more, we realized we’d never communicated what we wanted – and didn’t fully appreciate what we wanted as a business or team.”
Blame didn’t solve the problem (it rarely does) for the team members; but taking a step back, and summing responsibility for their own lack of communication, did. They soon got on the same page. They build a better app. They articulated their idea and then some, but that happy upshot occurred only after they quit playing the blame game.
4. Do not presume . . . anything!
This final mistake is possibly the most dangerous of all because you know what you know, and it all seems so simple to you.
You build a business, perform a task, work through a process and tell yourself that the process is second nature to you. It’s easy for you, and it’s easy to presume other people will find it easy, too. Big mistake.
Initially, Krueger told me, he found success after success, because the popularity of podcasting meant that more people needed help creating, launching and promoting their shows. He offered a high-quality and personal service and soon had so much work that he couldn’t keep up.
That’s when he hired his first employee to ease the strain, and after showing that person how to use the successful process he had developed, he got back to work under the assumption that all was well.
Soon after, however, a few of his customers noticed a drop-off in quality, and his previous happy customer base grew increasingly unhappy by the week.
It wasn’t that Krueger’s new employee didn’t have the right skill set, but rather that Krueger, the founder, didn’t take the time to communicate the exact process his customers were used to (step by step).
The takeaway: As a leader, you cannot presume that those around you know what you know. What is easy for you may not be easy for them. How you work may not be how they work.
This isn’t their problem. It’s yours; it’s your job to communicate what you want, how you want it and why you want it that way – and then, show your employees/interns how to do what you want them to do.
These are just four mistakes that have the power to shake your world; and if you cannot relate to at least one of them, I’ll be amazed. So, right now, I ask you to take a step back and honestly answer:
… Am I making one of these mistakes?
If you are, don’t worry. Get back to work, turn things around and fix these issues before they grow into something much larger.