17 February 2014
Somewhere amongst all my various scribbling is a line about my successes having shaped me, but it being my failures that have made me.
It is a play on Einstein's quote along the lines that people who haven't made a mistake haven't tried anything. But I do believe that it is the things that I've done wrong, or not well enough, that I've truly learned from.
You do also learn from success, but it is sometimes easier to just party and enjoy your moment of triumph. Another of my little mottos back in the days when I had a team was that the team succeeds, but failures are mine. That one was largely about me taking it on the chin when things went wrong, but it was also about letting the team celebrate the wins while I got to think about why we had won.
You can't win them all. That's not being defeatist, it's being realistic. If you're good enough, whether as an individual or as a team, then you can enjoy long runs of success. You can win more that you lose but, sooner or later, there will be someone who will beat you. That is healthy, and one of the other lessons that I have learned along the way is that you don't take defeats personally. Business is business; allowing emotions to get in the way is a waste of energy that you could put to better use on positive things.
I'm still competitive and I don't like to lose, but I've come to accept that there are times when what I have isn't what is needed on the day to pull off the win. And I don't take too much notice of luck either. Gary Player, one of the greatest players in the history of golf, once said that the more he practised, the luckier he got. You make your own luck most of the time.
Another factor is in being willing to compete. Would you rather be "played 3 won 3", or "played 30 won 27"? Even if you're "played 30 won 3" at least you are trying, and I'll always applaud a trier over someone who is afraid to go into the arena. You can always develop someone who is willing to try, and they are often more likely to be consistent winners than someone with talent who won't risk themselves. Just look at the talent that the England football team squandered at the last World Cup, where a fear of losing appeared to be greater than the desire to win.
Sport and business are not the same, but there are parallels. A well-motivated and led team will do well in either. And those who are prepared to push themselves hard will do well in either - and what is the point if you're not going to keep on challenging yourself? I'll offer another sporting quotation: "To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of one's life to do nothing with one's ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement not in years alone." That was written nearly 50 years ago by racing driver and founder of the most successful Formula 1 team in history, Bruce McLaren, following the death of his teammate Timmy Mayer.
Most of us don't have the risk of death implicit in our business life. But we don't know how long we have on this planet. We might as well do something worthwhile with the time that we have and if that means making a few mistakes, then so what? Live and learn.
John Bowen is an FM consultant