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Failing brings new opportunities

27 August 2019 at 8:31 am
Mike Davis
Mike Davis reflects on the lessons he learnt from his experience failing with Purposeful and the difference between failing and failure.

Mike Davis | 27 August 2019 at 8:31 am


Failing brings new opportunities
27 August 2019 at 8:31 am

Mike Davis reflects on the lessons he learnt from his experience failing with Purposeful and the difference between failing and failure.

At first glance, you might think does he mean to say failure? Well I don’t. Failing implies an impermanence or a temporary state that you enter and exit as you traverse your life and career journey. We all fail at times, but we get up, dust ourselves off, learn what we can and improve. 

My personal view is that no-one is a failure and no project is a failure as long as valuable lessons are learned that can be used to enhance one’s future approach, mentality and broader wisdom. 

Failing has become an alluring topic and has for many years been a mainstay of the startup scene where failure is extremely common and expected for what Forbes suggests is around 90 per cent of all new startups. It’s easy to find a raft of “Fuck Up Nights”, keynote talks, books, blogs and even entire careers seemingly built on the exploration of failing and therefore how to fail less in future!   

One reason for the explosion in popularity of late might be that the topic was previously somewhat taboo and seen as damaging to reputation. Today it has been recast as an essential stepping stone to success. 

An extract from Bloomberg paints an optimistic picture of the second attempt:

“Of the first-time entrepreneurs whose businesses closed quickly, the overwhelming majority –  71 per cent – didn’t bother to try again. But the tenacious 29 per cent who did were more likely to be successful the second, third, and even 10th time around.”

So a key part of failing and bouncing back to success balances on understanding and coming to terms with what we got wrong and what we would do differently the next time around. In our recent monthly Purpose Newsletter, I blogged about my experience failing with Purposeful – a social impact consultancy. 

Although I’d spent a lot of time examining the reasons for failing in my head, writing about this to my mailing list of over 1,000 friends, colleagues and former clients was a significant step in my journey to converting the experience and lessons learned into useful wisdom. 

Purposeful was my first business, and while in many ways it achieved more than anything I could have hoped for, it fell way short of what my vision was for it. 

Here are some of the key reasons I listed for the failure (extracted from blog):

  • Trying to do too many things with my time – Going too broad and not deep enough in each.
  • Wearing too many hats in the business – Thought leadership, growing a market, winning business, administration and delivering work.
  • The intention/action gap was significant – Everyone loves social impact but very few are willing and able to resource projects to enable it.
  • I couldn’t get my product-market fit right – I wasn’t able to package my offering up in a way that resonated with an underdeveloped market segment(s).
  • I was too early to market with my offerings – People weren’t yet familiar and comfortable with what I was selling and how I was selling it.

The benefit of writing this blog for me was to embrace a more transparent vulnerability that I hadn’t leaned into before. One of the key benefits of failing is that it helps you to identify what you are good at and enjoy, and what you are bad at and don’t enjoy. 

My experience highlighted to me that I have a love for presenting, speaking, sharing knowledge and connecting with people in person and in podcast conversation. It also showed me that I do not love sales or trying to do everything at once. 

I also wasn’t great with timing my entry to market and knowing when the right time to pull the trigger was. Reading the terrific When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink helped me learn a great deal about this earlier in the year! 

Here are my recommendations for this highly sensitive, personal and complex area:

  1. Change your mindset and see failing as an essential stepping stone to new opportunities.
  2. Examine the honest reasons for any failing you are experiencing (both self-perpetuated and externally caused).
  3. Share your experience with others and seek their feedback and reflections.
  4. Decide what you plan to do as a result of the failing and make sure this chosen path factors in the above reasons (now lessons).
  5. Make a commitment to be stronger and better as a result of any failing by planning to address areas of weakness.

On this final point, commit to learning or gaining the experiences essential to growth to improve these areas. Connect with an expert at the skill you are weak in, read a book, listen to an audiobook or podcast, take a course in person or online, join a company or do an internship to work on that area of your skillset. 

Turn any perceived negative or weakness to a positive through determined action. 

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” – J. K. Rowling

You can hear more from Mike Davis in Pro Bono Australia’s upcoming webinar Communicating Social Progress – How to Use Theory of Change Effectively. The webinar will be a practical, insight-filled session where you will learn how to create your own robust theory of change, and how to use it effectively to produce positive outcomes for your organisation. See here for more information.


Mike Davis  |  @mikedav84

Mike Davis is a senior strategic advisor at Spark Strategy, chief podcaster at Humans of Purpose and a board director at not for profits SIMNA Ltd and L2R Dance.

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