The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who is the CEO of a local plastics company. Somehow the conversation meandered toward the topic of learning from others’ mistakes. We talked about the blessing that it is to have someone in your life; a parent or business mentor, who openly shares the lessons they’ve learned in their life. And for those who really pay attention, learning from others’ mistakes can not only save you time and money, but heartaches and relationships.
To that end, I’m recommending my latest summer read — The Good Fail: Entrepreneurial Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Microworkz. As those of you who read my reviews know, I’m not always the biggest fan of entrepreneurial war stories (but that’s just me). When I read a business book, I’m looking for practical advice and actionable strategies. And this is what makes The Good Fail a book that I really enjoyed.
What’s a Good Fail?
Richard (@icarmagic) defines a “Good Fail” as a “failure that has a learning value that’s greater than the offset collateral damage.” It’s a failure that one is unlikely to repeat, but that helps to positively develop the person’s managerial style and business acumen. And Latman has had more than his share. He’s started 11 different businesses, contributed to many others and stumbled through quite a few. He’s become rather adept at failing quickly and cheaply, and that is a lesson every entrepreneur needs to have.
When You Fail, It’s Personal
This is Latman’s personal story and he starts it at the very beginning. He describes his idyllic childhood in the San Fernando Valley and even tells the story of the sudden death of his girlfriend at the age of 13. Latman’s father was a baseball player turned entrepreneur — who failed a lot.
But Latman was undaunted. He was always looking for a challenge and didn’t seem to recognize the the boundaries that hold so many of us back from going after our objectives. But at the same time, his inattention to boundaries was often a mixed blessing. It was that kind of perseverence that got him into college and it was that same kind of oblivion to boundaries that got him arrested and put in jail for taking VHS videos out of his work environment to watch at home.
Granted, he didn’t “realize” that this was against company policy, but you can already see the pattern of going for it that would ultimately be at the root of the demise of MicroWorkz.
Inside The Big Fail
When you think about it, it seems rather counter intuitive to purchase a book on failure and how to avoid it. I mean, aren’t we aiming for success? Will focusing on failure and how to avoid it actually put the wheels of the Law of Attraction in motion and draw me toward failure? Not to worry. Latman offers advice for “getting good” at failure and the 19 ways to avoid a Good Fail.
Here are just a few of the suggestions:
- Build it then sell it. Be ultra-conservative in your sales approach and enter the market completely confident in your product and your ability to deliver it exactly the way you promised it.
- Surround yourself with hunters and not farmers. Hunters are proactive in their search for information and opportunities and execute with precision. Farmers gather and process information buut don’t get much done with it.
- You are your own worst employee. If you see yourself as an expert — or THE expert in what you do, then you are actually setting limitations for what’s possible in your business. This is a variation of “not thought of by me” syndrome.
- Accept “No” as an answer. Listen to what’s behind the “No” and don’t just rush in for the sake of doing what you “know” is right.
- Worry about success. In the case of MicroWorkz, it was the success and PR exposure that was at the root of their downfall. They simply couldn’t keep up.
The Good Fail Can Lead to Big Success
I have to admit that I enjoyed reading The Good Fail so much more than I expected. Remember, I’m not much into biographies and war stories, and while this book had elements of both, Latman really put the focus on the lessons about failure that would really help entrepreneurs learn from his mistakes.
Small business owners, presidents, CEOs and managers will really enjoy this book. It’s an excellent read for a business trip or a quick summer vacation.
This is an interesting interview with the author, with the author giving follow up comments as well. I think in this case it’s not possible to separate the lesson from the teacher, suffice to say the interview does not paint the author or the book in a favorable light.
Hi Chern Ann,
Thanks for pointing out that article and adding another viewpoint.
Hi Chern Ann – Second me on the thank you. I think your article adds a very interesting point. I just read it and it left me wondering if the author of the article was also trying to pitch his book as a contrast to the authors or if he was simply using the book as a reference to prove his point. What do you think
The book gets a one or two mentions but it appears more as establishing his expert status rather than a straight plug. He does raise some reasonable points, and really Richard’s responses himself in the comments section are the most illuminating.
This is an interesting thread on the book and the author’s ethics discussed by Don Tennant in the article that Chern Ann is referring to.
I haven’t written a book yet on my “fail forward,” but you could read a post on Open Forum: Five Lessons Learned from my Start-up — And why I’d Do it Again (01/19/2009).
I am in the discussion with some individuals to start a new venture and it is interesting how our approach to the start-up has developed since the last time! We have a “live plan” this time… 😉