Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

This blog has moved to:

Get this widget!
Visit the Widget Gallery

If you'd like to get an update when we post new content, please click here to subscribe via RSS or to subscribe by e-mail.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Foundations Admit Mistakes…How About Businesses?

A Very refreshing article in the New York Times about foundations not only not burying their mistakes, but actually looking at how they happened, what went wrong, and what to do better the next time around.

Just a few years ago, it would have been astonishing for a foundation, particularly one as traditional as Carnegie, to publicize a failure. Today, though, many of the nation’s largest foundations regard disclosing and analyzing their failures as bordering on a moral obligation.

“There’s an increasing recognition among foundation leaders that not to be public about failures is essentially indefensible,” said Phil Buchanan, the executive director of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which advises foundations. “If something didn’t work, it is incumbent upon you to make sure others don’t make the same mistake.

I see this as a welcome trend, and one that businesses can learn from. Failure is not something to be ashamed of. I had a number of failures in business before I started the one I’m in now, back in 1981–and even then, it had to change with the times. It has reinvented itself several times, and I feel another reinvention percolating (don’t know how it will shape up yet).

Entrepreneurs almost always have failures to “brag” about. otherwise, we wouldn’t be entrepreneurs, because in order of succeed, you have to take risks.

When asked about has many failed attempts to develop a light bulb, Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have

successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” (Quoted in The

World Bank. 1994. World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for

Development. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press and cited here.)

I’ll tell you about a few of my failures over the years, within my current, successful business:

  • Around 20 years ago, I tried to start a state trade association for resume writers, without having any idea of how much work would be involved or how much direct mail I’d have to do to get a viable membership. I actually got a phenomenal response to my first mailing (somewhere around 8 percent, I think), but that left me with something like seven members.

  • I’ve been unable to find a publisher for a research-intensive book I’d like to do that requires a big publisher who can pay a big advance. Even though I’ve done one book with Simon & Schuster and two others with respected smaller commercial publishers, and even though I speak and write and am very visible on the Internet, agents think I don’t have enough of a platform to take on this project. Since coming up with this idea, though, I’ve done two more self-published books, to critical acclaim.

  • A few years back, I stepped into a catfight on one of the discussion lists I participate in–and watched the client referrals from that list shrivel up to a tiny fraction of what they’d been.

  • I set a goal some time back of doing a certain number of speeches at a certain rate of compensation, by a certain date. Years later, I still haven’t reached that goal.

  • I won’t bore you with the whole long list. But I do think it’s important to take stock, to reflect on the mistakes/failures as well as the brilliant successes. I’ve learned, I’ve channeled my energy into becoming not only more successful financially, but a better person. And it’s showing results.

    I urge you to admit and discuss your setbacks as well as your successes.

    Maybe I should add admitting setbacks to the Business Ethics Pledge.


    Post a Comment

    << Home