Why Failing Isn’t Failure
There is a lot of sage advice out there on dealing with failure. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And, Benjamin Franklin said, “I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” But what Edison and Franklin don’t acknowledge is that failure sucks. Unfortunately, failure is part of life and definitely part of business. If you’re successful, failure is never far behind because you’re putting yourself out there for all to see. Making yourself seen and vulnerable is when things can get uncomfortable. For Snackbox Founder, Jenna Oltersdorf, failure is part of the ups and downs of running a successful business. Here are her thoughts on failure, how to learn from it and how to move beyond.
You’re a very competitive person. What is it like for you to make mistakes?
Mistakes happen. It’s how we handle each mistake that builds our character. I firmly believe that if you’re pushing yourself hard enough, you’re going to make mistakes. The important thing is to evaluate the process you followed, determine how the mistake happened and ensure that the mistake never occurs again.
I have a saying around here after any mistake: Has anyone died? Did we lose a million dollars? If the answer is “no” to both of those questions, then we can fix it.
What do you do when you realize the mistake is out of your control?
When we lose a client I give myself 24 hours to mourn. I can be in a grouchy mood for those 24 hours, cry if I need to. It’s a day of sadness and negativity. BUT after that 24 hours is up, it’s no longer a failure. It’s time to pick myself up and get back out there. I spend time prospecting for new clients to replace the one I just lost. I connect with new people on LinkedIn and do things that will help Snackbox in the future. And, every time I shift from the mourning period to the “slay-this-day” period, I lift my spirits, renew my hope and find new ways to focus my energy. It’s incredibly positive and restorative.
Has the sting of failure gotten easier for you over the years?
It has, but only because I’ve given past failures a lot of thought. I’ve talked them over and over with my business partner. I’ve dissected every nuance to learn from them. And, as long as you’re learning from your past failures, then they really aren’t failures at all. Instead, they’re lessons.
Failing sucks. Let’s face it. How do you move on?
The key is learning from your mistakes. When you make learning a key process with any mistake, failure or loss, it becomes less about the negative part of the story and more about focusing on positivity. With everything I do, I give thought to how I can do it better, smarter, faster. It’s part of our core through our focus on design thinking when it comes to public relations. We tinker with pitches, we play with words, we give serious thoughts to our plans and strategies not only before the work gets going, but also while we’re doing the work. That design thinking philosophy is what makes us such a strong agency.
Celebrating successes is something you work hard at. What’s your favorite way to celebrate?
When we first started Snackbox, the successes were hard to come by, so we celebrated the small stuff. An invoice was paid … yay! We won a new client … yay! We secured an incredible placement … yay!
Now it’s a little different. We recognize the team when they go above and beyond with the “highest of high fives”. Eric stands on a stool and the team member being recognized physically jumps up to meet their palm to his. We also have little gifts staff can choose from. (Sounds cheesy, but everyone loves it.)
When we win a new client, someone reaches a key anniversary, etc., we pop a bottle of champagne in the office. We believe very much that when something great happens, we have to take a pause from work, sit around the conference table and acknowledge the great things that have happened but also celebrate them together, as a team.
I’m very big on the entire team celebrating each other as we succeed individually or as a team. It doesn’t matter how big or how small the accomplishment.