On Failure

If you've ever gone to the circus, the ring master will draw your attention to the lion tamer or the trapeze artist or the tight rope walker with the word attempt.  "At a height of 65 feet, she will attempt to walk to the platform 30 feet away on a tight rope only 1 inch in width."  Never would a ringmaster say, "Watch as she crosses the tight-rope, just as she's done a 847 other times."  No one goes to the circus to watch a video, a repeat performance. They go for the risk. Maybe this time the trapeze artist will fall, or maybe this time that lion will decide he's hungry when the trainer puts their head in his mouth...  You get the idea.

The most value we can receive from our customers or members is not money.  It is attention.  It is their attention that keeps them buying from you, trying your new products or services, and recommending you to others.  If we do something to abuse their attention (spam them, give out their private information, etc.), we lose them for the long term.

Attention is the reason we shouldn't over-communicate with customers by email (spam) about things that don't interest them.  It's also the reason many businesses and organizations are "attempting" to segment their marketing and communications according to customer interests.  Perhaps one Facebook page isn't specific enough for your customers' specific interests.

I've joked recently that, if I'm going to fail, I will choose to fail publicly.  (Failing privately is just demoralizing.)  In this case, failure isn't about lack of preparation or not showing up.  You're prepared.  You show up ready to give it your best, and you publicly attempt to something hard to do.  (i.e., the Patriots' Superbowl loss.)

Failing publicly while you attempt something interesting makes your audience part of the process.  When they are part of the process, they are cheering for you, or against you. Either way, they are engaged and you have their attention.  While you have their attention, you can ask them to do something.  Choose a side, help us push, write a check, whatever.

Some of the things you are attempting have the risk of failure.  That's why you celebrate small signs of progress along the way.  I have a "what if" board in my office with public failure written all over it.  (Not really, but it's a very real risk.)  My mentor, Mike McLaran, always told his team that the decisions we make today never mean that we will do it the same way next year.  It is the constant commitment to trying new things that has earns you the attention of your customers, and the community at large.  They want to see if it will work.  There's always a chance that it won't.  They are cheering for us.  (Some, admittedly, are cheering against us. Either way, they are engaged.)

Doing the same thing as last year gets us products, committees or programs which haven't changed significantly in a decade.  Trying new things promotes an organizational culture of innovation, experimentation and curiosity. When our customers learn this from us, they take it to their families, their employees, and perhaps their customers.  Before you know it, you have a community of curious, brave citizens who are also willing to participate.  And when they look at you, they will recognize you as one of them.

PS - In presenting an idea, either to an individual or a group, you could tell them what you're going to do, in which case you'll get a rubber stamp response: OK, go ahead.  Or you could admit that we have no idea if this will work.  You could admit that we don't have all the answers yet, but you're open to their ideas if that's an area in which they are strong.  By taking the second approach, you promote curiosity, get fresh perspectives, and get people who engage in your attempt.

PPS - I have no idea if this concept will stick with you.  I don't have all the answers.  But every once in a while, I will attempt to keep you informed of my progress as I experiment on topics of which I am curious.  The ideas on my "what if" board are written in green. Green, as in green light, go.

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