Think of an environment where your flops can actually be of interest to others. Picture a place where there is no pressure for success but support for mutual achievement. Imagine a world where it is OK to fail and to share that experience with peers. Before the first notes of “Over the Rainbow” start playing in the back of your mind, leading you to a domain of fiction and fantasy, let me assure you that there is no make-believe in here, much on the contrary! This is a place where people of flesh and bone have been living since immemorial times and where mankind will thrive for many years to come. This place is called… real life.
People have better lives on Facebook. They look prettier on Instagram. Their careers advance faster on LinkedIn. And they all sound wittier on Twitter. Or do they? This award-winning short film shows the true reality of the life some people have been living on social media:
Despite the hyperbolic nature of the movie, it shows how social media today can create a devastating experience for someone who cannot differentiate real life from the life that appears on their screens. Before I get too much off track and start discussing anthropological aspects of this phenomenon, let me go back and share some good news: There is a world outside of your social media of choice where people are eager to learn from your mistakes. And if you are honest with them, they will like, share, pin and retweet your ideas.
Everyone has a failure story. Everyone. So why keep it to yourself as something to be ashamed of, when learning from it can be a much more rewarding experience? Mature and accomplished professionals are not afraid of exposing their errors for others to analyze and benefit from them. “I err therefore I am” is their motto. There are like-minded people all over the world in every professional sphere looking forward to learning about your failures, and how they can turn them into victories.
True leaders should not be ashamed of their mistakes. Leaders are proud to learn from what went wrong, and one of the key aspects that define true leadership is the ability to influence others. If you share your failures as well as your successes, you are more likely to create empathy with your audience, who in turn will be happy to share their stories and ideas with you. In a world where people expect you to be richer, faster, stronger and prettier, not conforming to the norm can bring a breath of fresh air that people will immediately relate to.
This is exactly what I did earlier this year in Istanbul. In a presentation called, “How we failed to win a 100,000,000 word contract and what you could have done different,” Diego Bartolomé, from tauyou, and I shared with audience members attending the annual GALA Conference the scope of the client’s request, how we structured our offer and the risk analysis we did internally. We then opened for debate and asked participants, “How would you have dealt with this prospect?” Below is the link to the presentation with my notes:
The result? The session had the highest attendance of the whole conference, and out of the people who responded the satisfaction survey, 59% thought it was excellent, 36% considered it good and some 5% deemed it fair or poor. You can never please everyone and a famous Brazilian author once aptly said that “Unanimity is always stupid.” The numbers do show however that people respond positively when you are honest with them. It is always worth ending your story with an optimistic tone. Also, if you will ask for suggestions at the end, make sure you lead the conversation by including topics for discussion. After all, it is not because that you have failed in the past that you have lost the title of leader and expert.
The Internet and probably your inbox are filled with success stories as sales pitches. This overuse of case studies, which once served to show your prospects the solution you found for a particular customer, today is like offering quality in your marketing material: everyone does that. If you want to navigate through undisputed waters, consider writing a failure story, while still proving your expertise and solution-driven attitude. Grab your reader’s attention with negative words that at first will make them think there is something wrong with your message. Potential customers will view you and your company as more honest and transparent when you share a failure story and what you did to reverse the situation. Failure stories can be good for your team, too. Knowing that your company is learning from its own mistakes will show them that it is fine to make mistakes, as long as you are able to fix it and find a positive outcome.
This article was originally published in the “Lost in Localization” column (August 2014) on TechWhirl.