What Happens When You Succeed?

There are many, many, many stories of failure in the innovation world, the startup world, and the VC world. Interestingly, all three of those worlds treat failure differently: in the innovation world, some organizations may pull back on innovation initiatives.

In the startup world, the startup may pivot, shed, or add founders to shake things up. In the VC world, you chalk it up to chance – VC’s understand that most of their investments will fail, but all they need is a few to succeed considerably, and their investment will have been a good one. Failure is also helpful in a personal way – those of us who are not crushed by failures take our failures as an opportunity to learn (as in, did you win or did you learn).

We’ve also talked a lot about failure – remember the probably apocryphal tale of the business leader who made a significant error and lost millions of dollars, and then wasn’t fired because his boss figured it was an expensive lesson (did that ever really happen? I don’t think massive scale failures like that are left unpunished anymore). But I digress. We all have a fixed conception about what we should do when we fail. We learn from the failure, adjust ourselves, pivot, and hopefully, move on. What do we do when we succeed, though? We celebrate – yes – we did it! It’s excellent, and we ride on that success for a while.

But, do we learn from the success as much as we learn from failure? Do we go through that same kind of soul searching and in-depth analysis of why something succeeded when it does – or do we just think that we are lucky that we figured out our product market/fit, picked the right business model or team, or practiced just the right amount of time on that jump shot.

Too often, when we struggle and fail, we use that failure as a lesson. When we strive and succeed, even in a small way, we don’t use the same amount of time or effort in analyzing what went right.

We should. No matter if it’s a huge success or a small one, we should analyze these results and figure out how we can “do more of that.”

What were the conditions that made this successful? Why did it work out? Was it the team, the message, the product, the timing, a celebrity endorsement? What set of factors came into play to make this work? The next time something goes right – no matter how small – scrutinize it as much as you would if it were a failure – you may just have found yourself a repeatable winning combination.

A caveat though: it still may be possible that it was a combination of time, place, message, team, etc. that can never be repeated, so don’t overestimate successes, just as you should never underestimate failures.

Go through life, understanding both your successes and your failures genuinely – all humans will have many of both – and don’t let them run your life, but glide above them, disconnected but observant.