Always remember to fall forward
Richard Conway shares his key takeaways on ‘failing fast’ from the fourth edition of the business speaker series Unfiltered Live. Flaunting our successes online is easy, but we mustn’t forget that running a business never goes as smoothly as we want it to. Everyone fails, but failure is just success in progress, and it’s in […]
Richard Conway shares his key takeaways on ‘failing fast’ from the fourth edition of the business speaker series Unfiltered Live.
Flaunting our successes online is easy, but we mustn’t forget that running a business never goes as smoothly as we want it to. Everyone fails, but failure is just success in progress, and it’s in these moments where we best learn and grow.
On Friday 21 June, top business leaders and entrepreneurs from around the world convened at the 4th Unfiltered Live event in Auckland to discuss their biggest challenges and shed light on how they transformed their ‘sh!t-shows’ into worldwide ‘hit-shows’.
This year’s theme was ‘Fall Forward Auckland’.
“If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything, except my faith. I want to fall forward. At least I figure that way I’ll see what I’m about to hit. Fall forward.” – Denzel Washington.
The theme of this year’s Unfiltered Live was based on that famous speech by Denzel Washington at the University of Pennsylvania. In it, he spoke of the three main reasons why we should take risks. They are:
• Failure is inevitable, you just need the guts to fail.
• Failure means you’re trying, and
• Failure is the best way to figure out where you’re going.
Many Unfiltered speakers told stories of their failures. Some were rather epic (someone almost burned down a barn), but what mattered was that they chose to keep going; to trust their gut, and to ‘fall forward’.
Below I’ve categorised everyone’s most epic failures so you too can learn from some of the world’s most successful business people.
Failures building a business
Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of Stonyfield Farm, shared a particularly gripping conception story (remember the burning barn?) of snowstorms, chicken dung on machinery, late-night conversations with a mother-in-law to borrow money behind his wife’s back, and some truth-concealing to bring corporations on board.
Gary said to keep three points in mind when establishing a business. “Don’t rush the big decisions; trust is great but get it in writing, and; don’t shortcut the homework.”
Dr Elizabeth Iorns, co-founder and CEO of Science Exchange, shared her tale of failure – showing a group of professional scientists a number of memes that didn’t earn a single giggle. She reminded us of the importance of knowing your audience. When pitching a product or service, always tailor your message to what your audience is looking for.
“Determine objectives and audience perspective – and then prepare,” says Iorns.
Peter Gordon, the critically acclaimed New Zealand-born chef of Ma¯ori and Scottish descent, said one of his failures was “believing that development will always be good for your business”. Sometimes, what works, works. You don’t have to chase change. Make sure you make decisions that are right for your business, he says.
Kevin Roberts, the founder and CEO of Red Rose Consulting and former executive chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, advised us to “fail fast, learn fast, fix fast”. Although we’re all programmed to avoid failure, it’s important to work through failure as efficiently as possible when we inevitably experience it.
“Adapt, improvise and overcome,” says Roberts.
Failures working with the wrong people
Dr Elizabeth Iorns was the first to admit that she hired executives and partnered with big companies too early. Don’t partner with companies without aligning expectations and be okay with walking away (just make sure you get paid first!).
Sharndre Kushor, the 24-year-old co-founder of Crimson Education, offered a different sort of advice about hiring, bluntly stating that “recruiters are a waste of time.” All Sharndre’s top-level employees came from referrals and networking – highlighting the importance of strong connections with like-minded people. Don’t settle for someone who works for you, choose someone who can work with you.
Craig Piggott, the founder and CEO of Halter, reinforced Sharndre’s idea, saying that “talent attracts talent.”
Finally, David Rogier, the co-founder and CEO of America’s MasterClass, had this caution for the audience: “When I need to hire someone, I’m already six months behind.”
We all know the investment of time and effort necessary to onboard a new hire, train them, and finally get them to produce the great results we expect. If your company is expanding or anticipating growth, plan ahead and hire early.
Failures that affect our personal lives
Tim Brown’s secret to success as co-founder and co-CEO of sustainable shoe brand Allbirds is to “be honest with yourself [about] the stuff you’re good at and the stuff you’re not good at”.
Tim found it crucial to focus on one thing you want to do. For him, that meant choosing between professional sports or creating the most comfortable shoes in the world. He figured out where his passion and talent lied and stuck with it.
Kevin Roberts then said “being obsessed isn’t sexy,” but we can either be obsessed or average. For our business to succeed, we need to be deeply involved and sensitive to details.
David Rogier, however, revealed that one of his biggest personal mistakes was equating how well his company was doing with his own self-worth. “Pick something that, even if it fails, you’re going to be proud of,” he says, cautioning against attaching too much of our sense of achievement to our company’s success.
Perhaps the most personal failure divulged at the event was delivered by Taranaki’s very own Gavin Faull, the chairman and president of Swiss-Belhotel International.
“I was flying the world,” he recalls. At one point, Gavin shared that he was spending 80 percent of his time flying from one country to another, leaving him little time for family. Fortunately, his three sons, all of whom now work for the brand, corrected this mistake for him.
For many, our family is our primary source of support and encouragement. Don’t forget to spend quality time with those who you care about when striving for business success.
“You can’t do it alone. Have a good support network,” says Tim Brown.
And that’s a wrap
I missed some other insightful talks at Unfiltered Live 2019, including David Bell’s four-part talk on brand revolution, Dan Goldin’s exciting venture as NASA’s former administrator, conversations about leadership and athleticism from the panels, and more. No recap can ever do the event justice – you’ll just have to be there next year! Unfiltered Live is definitely not to be missed.
Ultimately, we were all reminded that we’re never alone in our struggles. We left feeling encouraged to push through any mistakes and failures we might face.
No matter where you are in your business journey, don’t forget to fall forward!
Richard Conway is the author of ‘How to get to the top of Google’ and founder and CEO of Pure SEO.