Failure is one of the best learning tools out there. Of course, taking the time to address lessons learned is never easy. It takes a strong desire to improve performance, the humility to be open to criticism and the courage to do so. Not living up to one's expectations can be a direct route to depression if not managed properly. Fortunately, there are ways around it.
In the Navy, we hosted after-action reviews as a means to improve overall awareness and build organizational learning. The objective was to compare what we planned to do with what actually happened and then identify what caused the change. Without taking the time to reflect upon the past, there will be limited mobility to act in the future.
Business is no different. To gather entrepreneurial lessons, I spoke with Tabitha Naylor, founder of Successful Startup 101, an online magazine that provides a wealth of startup tips and advice. Here are five practices she avoids:
1. Sending e-mails too quickly. You will inevitably have conversations where you disagree with vendors, customers or competitors. If the back and forth is happening in e-mail, let the message sit in your drafts folder for an hour or more while your emotions simmer down. Then, go back and edit. Reread for professionalism, and make sure that your point is getting across without being accusatory or derogative.
2. Operating in a vacuum. Take opportunities to network with others at local events and impromptu meetings. A well-established base of colleagues can help in unexpected circumstances, and referrals are often at the heart of creating new business. There is no operation too large or too successful to need more allies. If you're too busy running your business then you won't be able to grow your business.
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3. Overdoing it. Burnout leads to bad decisions. You may be motivated to work too many hours now, but it will take its toll in the long run. Take time for yourself, even if that time is only an afternoon. Those pockets of time will be to your advantage down the line when the novelty of the business wears off.
4. Tardiness. Notwithstanding unknown and unpreventable factors, arriving late to a meeting or appointment connotes one thing: that you either lack the self-discipline to arrive on time or that you don't care. Either way, it speaks volumes about your character. Reliability is paramount to building strong business relationships.
5. Reply all. This is perhaps one of the most overused buttons in e-mail. While shared awareness is absolutely critical to organizational communication (and alignment, for that matter), sending a mass e-mail to everyone adds unnecessary clutter for people who simply don't need to be involved. Before automatic reflex takes over and you hit that "reply all" button, be sure you're sending the right information to the right people.
Without failure, there is no learning. Few people return home at night to say, "Wow, I was awesome today! How can I fix that?" Instead, reflection and renewal come from the trials and tribulations associated with negative emotions such as fear, doubt, embarrassment or humility, and such emotional baggage serves as the deciding factor as to press on and keep trying or give up all together.
Failure is only determined by where you stop. Don't stop anywhere for too long.
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