Tactical Advice

Why SMBs Should Embrace Failure

Missteps in business can serve as the stepping-stones on your path to success.
This story appears in the Spring 2012 issue of BizTech Magazine.
Why SMBs Should Embrace Failure

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you cry alone.” Those lines from an old poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox underscore what most of us intuitively understand. Everyone loves winners, but losers — not so much.

Who gets to decide between the winners and losers? It’s a complicated question because in many cases winning and losing are inextricably linked. Defeat frequently plays a critical part in the evolution of many people who go on to succeed in spectacular fashion. Understanding how to fan success from the ashes of failure involves both art and science.

Determination, curiosity, creativity and the ability to reflect and begin anew appear to be at the core of most successful people. The most critical factor seems to be an unwavering belief in self and one’s ability to succeed. I pulled out a few examples of people who obviously held those beliefs.

A Brief History of Failures In Business

Both Henry Ford and Soichiro Honda founded incredibly successful automotive companies. Both failed dramatically before they became household names.

Ford’s first early businesses only succeeded in leaving him penniless. His sixth business, Ford Motor, easily eclipsed those earlier failures.

And Honda? Toyota Motor rejected him when he applied for an engineering position. Unable to find employment, he started tinkering at home making scooters. This hobby eventually led to Honda Motor, the seventh largest automaker in the world.

Of course, the late Steve Jobs’ ouster from Apple back in 1985 is the stuff of corporate legend. But most people don’t remember that Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in America and second wealthiest in the world, failed miserably when he first dropped out of Harvard. Most people have never heard of the ineptly named Traf-O-Data, Gates’ first company. Yet that venture led him to his business partner Paul Allen and eventually to the global technology giant we know as Microsoft.

It’s inspiring to hear about guys like Ford, Honda and Gates because, like many entrepreneurs, I’ve also had my share of setbacks. When I was an ambitious programmer at a large company early in my career, my manager informed me that I wasn’t “management material.” Although that comment really hurt, it drove me to forge my own path — one where I, not someone else, would decide my own capabilities and fate.

Savoring Lessons Learned

After I founded Intertech, the technology training and consulting company I currently own, the loss of a major client early on threatened to put us out of business. Instead of panicking, the whole company regrouped and hustled like mad to replace the lost revenue. We kept all of our people employed. Although incredibly stressful, that event taught me a lesson that I have never forgotten: No single client should dominate our business.

There have been many similar lessons learned over the past 20 years. Although Intertech has been down on a few occasions, I’m confident we’ll probably never be defeated.

Our company has won major awards not only for growth, but also for the quality of our workplace. We continue to build on lessons learned through failure and finished 2011 with the strongest year in Intertech’s history.

We can’t control everything, but we can control our attitude, which ultimately is everything. Failures, obstacles and disappointments merely serve as stepping-stones on the path to success. Gates, Ford and Honda knew that.

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About the Author

Tom Salonek

Tom Salonek

Tom Salonek, author of Building a Winning Business: 70 Takeaways, is founder and CEO of Intertech of Eagan, Minn. He blogs at tomsalonek.com.


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