What You Did Right in Failure

Outcomes don’t perfectly align with inputs. You can have success while doing a lot of things wrong, and you can fail while doing a lot of things right.

You need to get the one big thing right to succeed, and get it wrong to fail, but everything else can be all over the place.

That’s why it’s important not to draw the wrong lessons. If every step taken by an eventually successful venture is retroactively treated like a good step, or every step taken by an eventually failed venture treated like a bad step, you’ll take the wrong lessons.

In a previous company, we got one big thing wrong. We were solving a problem millions of people felt only mildly, with a business model that needed them to feel it strongly. Hundreds felt it strongly, but our model couldn’t succeed with hundreds.

Slogging through the process for three years and trying to crack the code and figure out how to make it work took its toll. As it became clear what was wrong with the company, and that it couldn’t be fixed, the entire operation was tinted with the feeling of failure.

It stung so bad to fail that when I look back on things we did, they all give me a gloomy feeling. I associate all of them with failure. But in reality, many if not most of them were good moves.

We did a lot of things incredibly well. I’m starting to depersonalize now that more time has passed, and it’s enabled me to see lots of things I’d forgotten that we did. Things I can learn from and borrow for my current and future endeavors.

There are, laying among the junk heap of companies that got the one big thing wrong, myriad little things they got brilliantly right just sitting there, unseen and unused by others.

Like an incredible car with a bad engine, those other parts should be repurposed and combined with a good engine, not just ignored in the junkyard.