What defines adventure?

Think about it for a moment. You pick up two brochures for two different tours.

The first one promises hiking steep canyons, going through jungles where you can see snakes and leopards in their natural habitat, and driving through grasslands where lions lounge.

The second offers sights of beautiful castles on cliffs as you cruise peacefully down below along a meandering river, relaxing, eating five star meals.

They both may sound appealing, however you could realistically label only one tour as an adventure. Only the first would get your heart racing as you sign up and prepare to go. Why? Because there is some risk involved: a risk of danger, some kind of failure.

Even though your tour is guided by experts, never-the-less something could go wrong. Something could happen to you. Canyons, leopards, snakes, lions – you could fall, get bitten or clawed. Exciting, isn’t it!

Yes it is. This kind of stuff is what gets our adrenaline going.

Yet, if this is appealing, why are we so resistant to risk failure when it comes to our work? It’s because of our conditioning and perspective.


One reason: our conditioning

From the time we are conditioned that it is okay to be fascinated by the dangers of the natural world. Lions, bears, steep canyons, volcanoes, they excite us, and that’s fine.

Whether you are young, or young at heart as they say, you can find a tour where you can sit in open vehicles photographing lounging lions mere meters away. It’s socially accepted, even rewarded, for you to do this.

At the same time we are conditioned to play it safe when it comes to careers and business. Go to university. Become a lawyer, doctor, or dentist. Stay away from the arts. What’s the difference between a musician and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four, ha ha ha. Justin Bieber loves this joke, I bet.

When it comes to investing, stick with the blue chips. Have a good portion in bonds. Make sure you have a good pension. Don’t risk your money on small startups. Entrepreneurs are great, but it’s not really a career, and not for my children.

I am not passing judgement on this career and business advice, I just want to point out the contradiction: it is acceptable for you to risk all of the remaining years of your life by possibly falling off of that bouncing jeep beside the pride of lions; but, it’s not acceptable for you to ‘waste’ a couple of years of your life, and some money, to try something a bit more daring business or career wise.

Another reason: our own perspective

When was the last time you congratulated someone for failing? When we read about business failures in the press, we are moved to feel sadness and compassion. Or perhaps righteous anger and indignation if the failure was caused by fraud (reporters are good at triggering these feelings in us).

When a friend or acquaintance tells you their business failed, or your favorite restaurant goes out of business, we offer our condolences. There is a sense of loss, death and grief.

This perspective is common, yet it runs counter to much that has been written about failure and its role in success. If you read about successful people in any field you will come across the one constant, one ingredient indispensable to their success: failure.

Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.

Thomas J. Watson

Founder, IBM

Most everyone knows that Bill Gates dropped out of school. So did Steve Jobs. However, similar things can be said about everyone who ultimately succeeded. Stephen King was rejected 100 times before his first book was published. Lisa Kudrow, James Dyson (Dyson vacuum cleaners), Ru Paul, Lady Gaga, basically anybody who is anybody failed, and did so repeatedly, sometimes spectacularly.

That is how they learned to succeed. If you want to hear more about these individuals and their stories, and many others besides, I highly recommend the podcast, We Regret to Inform You – The Rejection Podcast. It is humbling, sobering and motivating, all in one.

From personal experience…

Admittedly, failure does feel like a death. But unlike death, there is a second, much more positive aspect to that failure. I learned this from my mentor, Charles, after my first business closed. He and I would meet twice a year in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he lived. This time I told him about having to shut down my business. Our conversation went something like this:

Charles: “How much did you lose?”

Me: “Basically the equivalent of what I paid for my university degree.”

Charles: “How much do you remember about what you learned at university?”

Me: “Well, I remember a few things that I learned, here and there.”

Charles: “What about what you learned through your business and its failure?”

Me: “Oh, I’ll never forget some of these lessons!”

Charles: “Well, why would you think this university was free?”

That conversation changed my perspective forever. Bless his soul.

I came home later that day and wrote out what I will never do again (and I haven’t!), and wrote down what I would change the next time.

Analysis to prevent paralysis

For business leaders analyzing failure is difficult because it’s painful to get into initially, and because there is little time to take from a busy daily schedule. Yet, to ensure success, that is exactly what’s needed.

What happens when people stop to look at what went wrong and really analyze past missteps? They tend to be surprized at how much they learn. Most importantly they come up with brilliant new ideas to try, and these ideas become the fuel that energizes them to get past any negative sentiments.

This is why, whether as part of leading change on a corporate business transformation project, or as part of our Business Revitalization Bootcamp for mid-sized business owners, this activity is baked into our approach.

Don’t be irrational toward your fears.  Don’t let your fears dominate you.  Overcome them!  And if you don’t understand something, go throw yourself into it.  Figure it out.  Don’t run from it.  Face the world.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, message to his sons

Former Prime Minister, Canada

Taking a cold, hard look at past errors and mistakes, current issues and anticipated risks, takes the emotion out and allows cool reason to guide you forward.

So there it is: conditioning and perspective become a sort of truth that we don’t challenge. Changing how you view failure, from a negative event to a natural order of things, will make a difference in what you’ll dare to do and how confident you’ll be.

If you want to know more about how we manage change during business transformations, or want to know more about our Business Revitalization Bootcamp, email us or write a comment in our Contact Us page.

Let us know what you think – Contact us!

Like this blog? Share it with your colleagues. And sign up so you won’t miss another one!