Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Unpleasant as it is, we learn from our failures

Yesterday Greg Mortenson co-author of Three Cups of Tea shared an experience he had getting his book published. His publisher, using the authority of it being the "expert" in the publishing field, insisted the subtitle for the book must be One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations...One School at a Time. Mortenson wanted the subtitle to be One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time. Big difference there.

He made the publisher promise if the hard cover edition did not sell as expected they would change to his subtitle for the paperback edition. Sales for the hard cover were not good and so the paperback came out with Mortenson's subtitle. It almost immediately hit the NYT's best seller list and stayed there for twenty months.

The first chapter of Mortenson's book is entitled Failure. The publisher also had a problem with that stating you cannot start a book talking about failure. But that is where the book starts.

J. K. Rowling faced a similar barrier with the first in her Harry Potter series. Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry at the time she submitted the book was that teens and young adults would not read a book that was over 300 pages. The Sorcerer's Stone is the shortest of the series at just over 300 pages and Rowling indicated it could have been longer. Later books in the series have all been longer, some much longer.

These foibles are not limited to the publishing industry. In fact entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have now had a conference extolling the virtues of failure.

Failure is an integral part of learning to succeed. In nations with free economies, thousands maybe millions of ways of doing things are tested. Many don't work, a few do work. In the process people grow and the economy progresses. A wonderful benefit from all of this is if we can learn from the mistakes of others and not always have to learn things first hand. In school you get the lesson and then the test. In life you get the test and then the lesson. Learning from others mistakes softens the tests.

Lessons from these experiences:

  • No one has all the answers
  • Things are constantly changing, what worked in the past may not work in the future
  • Standard operating procedures are necessary and provide a platform to work from, but you must be willing to test your procedures all the time
  • Failures are not the end if you don't give up, they're just steps along the upward path

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: