Six of the Best …. Failures

Following on from my last post Fail to Learn, Learn to Fail, I’ve done some research into some famous business people to see how rocky their road to success was. I was surprised by a few names and fascinated by others, so I thought I’d share some of them with you:

Walt DisneyWalt Disney

‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them’

Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney himself had a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. Legend has it he was turned down 302 times before he got financing for creating Disney World. He kept going with his mantra – Dream, Believe, Dare, Do and eventually found a recipe for success that transformed the dreams of millions of children and adults alike. Unfortunately he wasn’t alive to see his Walt Disney World vision become reality.

Winston Churchill

‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’

This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom wasn’t always as well-regarded as he is today. Churchill struggled in school and performed poorly. After school he faced many years of political failures, as he was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62.

During Churchill’s political career, he made numerous decisions that would turn into failures. In the First World War, he led the troop who invaded Turkey in order to establish a southern link with Russia, which resulted into a complete failure and loss of many young soldiers from Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZAC. In the Second World War he was chiefly responsible for taking over Norway and he was defeated by the German army. In spite of all the failures and criticism, Churchill is regarded as one of the greatest leaders and orators of the 20th century.

In 1953 he received the Noble Prize for Literature for the book ‘The Second World War’, In 1963, the US Congress granted him an honorary American citizenship. In 1940 and in 1949, the Time magazine honoured Churchill with the “Man of the Year”.

J.K. RowlingJ. K. Rowling

‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.’

Jo Rowling is a huge success on a global scale due to her Harry Potter stories, but before she published the series of novels she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel, which incidentally was rejected by 12 publishers before being published by Bloomsbury. Rowling went from struggling to survive on benefits to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination.

Richard BransonRichard Branson

‘You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over’

Richard Branson has tried many different things in his life. He likes to compete and prove to bigger players that the smaller ones can indeed win too in business.

Virgin Cola, introduced by Richard Branson in 1994 as the rival to Coca-Cola, has practically disappeared. Virgin Clothes, launched on the stock exchange in 1996, folded with losses to shareholders, after debuting with promising new trends in providing more edgy wardrobe to the young. Virgin Money was launched with a viral and somewhat controversial advertising campaign, panned by critics with Richard Branson emerging naked from the sea, but did not deliver the expected big financial rewards to its shareholders. Then came Virgin Vie, Virgin Vision, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Wine, Virgin Jeans, Virgin Brides, Virgin Cosmetics and Virgin Cars – All the major brands who wanted to compete and earn a huge market share from established brands in those areas, failed to live up towards expectations.

He has lost millions upon millions, if not billions, over the years. Many people would have given up along the way. But he hasn’t allowed his failures to stop him from trying again. He has learnt from his mistakes and gone on to be extremely successful again and again. It is his willingness to give things a go that has seen him succeed. He sees his failures as a step to success.

Albert EinsteinAlbert Einstein

‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.’

Most people would come up with the name Albert Einstein, if you asked them to name a genius.  Yet even for Einstein genius did not come easy.  He had speech difficulties as a child and was once even thought to be mentally handicapped. As a teen he rebelled against his schools reliance on rote learning and failed.  He tried to test into Zurich Polytechnic, but failed again (although he did very well in the mathematics and physics section!  A few years later he had a PHD and was recognized as a leading theorist.  A few years after that he had a Nobel prize for physics and began to be recognized as the genius of our modern era.

James DysonJames Dyson

‘By fostering an environment where failure is embraced, even those of us far from our student days have the freedom to make mistakes — and learn from them still. No one is going to get it right the first time. Instead of being punished for mistakes along the way, learn from them. I fail constantly. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

While developing his vacuum, Sir James Dyson went through 5,126 failed prototypes and his savings over 15 years. By the time he made his 15th prototype, his third child was born. By 2,627, he was really struggling financially. By 3,727, Dyson’s wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. Each failure brought him closer to solving the problem. It wasn’t the final prototype that made the struggle worth it. The 5,127th prototype worked and now the Dyson brand is one of the best-selling vacuum cleaners in the World.

Hope you enjoyed reading Six of the Best…Failures. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes of the moment :

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

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Top Leadership Challenges – The Results

Mark Conway

Thanks to those of you who took the time to complete the recent Top Leadership Challenges poll. The top 3 challenges as voted for by Gung Ho! readers are:

1. Creating a high performance culture

How leaders believe things should get done is a key driver of culture. Leaders establish culture consciously, or unconsciously, through their own personal motives and actions. Leaders care about what it takes to succeed, and their perception of those needs will impact their behaviours and expectations.

External forces can forge culture change, also. The most obvious external impact today is technology. Nothing is going to impact how we behave more than the current transformation brought on by the internet, unified communications, collaboration tools and other advanced forms of technology emerging in our homes and workplaces.

In the UK today, huge spending cuts are transforming the Public and 3rd sectors, forcing these organisations, some for the first time in living memory, to make radical changes to work practices and their interactions with the public. The result of this new pressure is that government leaders are coaching and teaching their people to run their programs competitively, measure results, build business cases for change, plan strategically, create customer value and so on. There are clearly impacts on the culture, and therefore, the management systems and practices.

Culture provides consistency for an organisation and its people, a critical need in organisations where leaders change due to the marketplace, mergers and acquisitions and down-sizing. Knowing ‘what matters around here’ and ‘what I do is important’ helps people feel they are working with some stability and predictability in a changing workplace.

Since the idea of change being constant is becoming more and more evident, people need help in understanding the vision and their part in it. They also need to be involved in making the change happen. At KC we’ve invested huge amounts of time and energy involving our people in our vision and values and this is not a one-off activity. Every member of every team needs to understand and be engaged in your vision, understand how they can contribute to it and what support they’ll have in getting there.

Two of my favourite brands are Walt Disney and Innocent. Just read a couple of their ‘Corporate’ statements to understand culture and what sits at the heart of these very successful businesses.

Walt Disney

“From the beginning, starting with Walt Disney, we have had five things that make me proud to be part of this Company: high-quality products, optimism for the future, great storytelling, an emphasis on family entertainment and great talent, passion and dedication from our Cast Members.”

 Marty Sklar, Vice Chairman and Principal Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering

Innocent

Purpose: ‘Make natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old’

Vision: ‘The Earth’s favourite little food company’

Values: ‘Create a business we can be proud of – be natural, be entrepreneurial, be responsible, be commercial and be generous’

Changing a culture in an established business as opposed to creating one in a new business is arguably much more difficult. Maybe that’s the shift in mindset required – collaborating on creating a new one could be a better course of action!

2. Reducing costs and increasing revenue

Every business leader that I’ve met faces this challenge and at a detailed level the actions you take as a leader will be different dependant on your business market, your product / service portfolio, your position in the market and the cost profile of your business.

Developing a cost-reduction strategy that maximises efficiency without compromising growth potential is not straight forward. You have to resist pressure to make indiscriminate cuts or slash headcount across the board. You need to identify core competencies where efficiency can be improved, trim and consolidate non-core functions, and reinvest the savings in critical business assets. And before you start, you need buy-in from your employees, especially those in senior and middle management.

Outsourcing might seem to be an easy answer. In many industries, contracting out non-core business functions such as human resources, billing, or payroll to third-party providers is gaining acceptance. Many companies outsource parts or all of their operating processes. But once a company decides to outsource, it also exposes itself to new forms of risk. For example, an inferior supplier of outsourced services can, overnight, inflict lasting damage on a company’s relationship with its suppliers and customers, that is to say its brand.

A strategy for driving profitable revenue growth is much more complex than controlling your costs. (That’s just my view – I’m sure all the commercial accountants will disagree and the Sales and Marketing people will be 100% behind me!)

I’ll keep it really simple. Focus on delivering the best possible experience you can afford for your customers at every stage of their time with you. Every interaction a customer or potential customer has with your brand is an opportunity to change their buying perception of you. Customers can share information about your products and services in a ways unimaginable 10 years ago. Fortune 500 and FTSE businesses have seen >10% share impacts of influential customers through social networks – Positively or Negatively.

3. Keeping employees motivated and focussed on results

I’ve listed a few thoughts below, but read Gung Ho! if you really want some great insight into employee motivation.

  • Lead by Example – NO EXCEPTIONS
  • Involve them – when people are involved in fleshing out visions, plans and projects, they buy-in faster and resist less. This means you can implement the change(s) more quickly and easily.
  • Set challenging goals. My experience has taught me that people strive to achieve what is expected of them. If you set challenging goals your team will work hard to accomplish them, providing of course, they are realistically attainable. It is amazing what people can accomplish when they are given the opportunity to perform.
  • Communicate – Your people need and want regular updates on the progress of the business and their personal performance. Talk to your team members regularly, letting them know if the business is on / off track.
  • Celebrate individual and team performance. Catch people doing something right and focus on recognizing excellent performance.
  • Give people the tools to succeed. No team will stay motivated if they do not have the necessary tools required to do their job.
  • Manage poor performance. While poor performance and conflict are seldom enjoyable to deal with, you have a responsibility to your team and the company to manage it.

Customer Service ~ Basil Fawlty or Walt Disney

I’ve just got back from a few days away with the family at Center Parcs in Nottinghamshire (UK). We had a great time…and whilst Center Parcs is not everyone’s thing, we love it there – It’s very relaxing and there’s something to do for most people with most budgets. I’ve been a customer for probably about 15 years going once every year or so.

Obviously during our time there we interacted with a number of Center Parcs’ staff, and my experiences ranged from below average to excellent, but on the whole pretty good. As I said, we had a great time; but it did get me to thinking how come parks like Walt Disney World can perform consistently better in the realms of looking after its customers? How can one company provide a consistently higher level of customer satisfaction and thousands of ‘Raving Fans’?

So I’ve put down some thoughts that have helped me get to some sort of conclusions:

W – Wear Customer spectacles – Get your staff to see things through the eyes of the customer. Allow your people to really understand customers and experience what they do. Ensure that EVERY member of your organisation is focussed on the customer – even (and I would say especially) those that don’t directly face customers every day.

ALWAYS deliver what you promise – Under promise and over deliver if you have to, but NEVER the other way around. ONLY THEN look for incremental positive change.

L – Look, Listen & Learn – Share all customer feedback – good and bad and ugly; and question every day how it can be done better. Get everyone to keep their ears to the ground – What great experiences have our customers had? What can we learn from other industries or our competitors? Why are customers joining us / leaving us / talking about us? All of this insight is ‘GOLD DUST’ if shared, thought about and used to power positive change.

T – Treat all your customers well – It’s often the little gestures that a customer will remember, so if you can afford it and it’s the right thing to do, do it. Hospitality for your large clients is often important and strengthens partnerships, but don’t forget that some of your smaller customers could one day be much larger and that they’ll remember those that supported them along the way!

D – Disaster Strikes – We all have disasters now and then – With complaints / major issues / customer escalations – react quickly! This is your opportunity to turn a poor brand experience around into a truly positive and memorable one, for all the right reasons!

I – Improve – Make it everyone’s responsibility to make improvements to the way you do business. It’s not always easy to engender this with your teams – but stick at it – it will pay off!

S – Smile – You will be amazed at the difference a genuine smile will have on your customers and the negative impact when you don’t. Watch out for ‘Energy Vampires’ in your organisation (thanks to Paul Sewell for that term – I’ve stolen it with pride!). Try this – watch out for the next time when you ask someone how they are and they say – ‘oh ok’ …’not bad’ … or ‘well, I’m feeling run down’ – look inside yourself and check how that made you feel – conversely when someone responds – ‘great thanks’ ….’ yeah really good’ – how does that make you feel – Well, guess what – that’s how we make our customers feel if we let them know that we’re having a bad day! Not good is it?

N – Never Stop – looking for improvements – you can always get better – you can guarantee your competitors will be watching your every move and trying to find your weak spots!

E – Enjoy – We all work hard, but find time to let your hair down with your teams – Relationships flourish when you’re having fun and it’s all about relationships – with your teams AND your customers

Y – You – It all starts with you – wherever you are in an organisation YOU can make a difference. Get practicing!

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