The Right Way to Fail

Written by Team Edgar

On December 22, 2015

We do stuff that doesn’t quite work out all the time.

(A few particularly embarrassing aerial yoga classes come to mind.)

And that’s okay! Contrary to some of the notes we received on middle school report cards, failing at something isn’t a problem in and of itself. It’s how you address that failure – and particularly, whether you take it as a sign to cut your losses and move on.

When you’re faced with a failure or setback, it’s tempting to want to completely drop the thing you’ve been trying. But does that actually work better, or does it just feel better in the moment?

There can be something liberating about failing at something and cutting it out of your routine – after all, it’s one less thing you have to do! Can’t run more than a quarter mile without gasping for air like a fish out of water? Then canceling your gym membership and sparing yourself the discomfort can feel pretty darn good!

But quitting doesn’t actually solve the problem.

Instead, it just allows you to pretend that there isn’t a solution at all – so why bother looking for one, right?

And that can be a dangerous line of thinking.

Canceling plans

Failing doesn’t tell you to quit something – it tells you to change something.

Here’s an example we hear small business owners mention a lot.

Say you have a blog on your website. You know that blogging is important for driving traffic, and you’re committed to writing for it, but…nobody’s reading.

Like, ever.

The tempting solution is to say that blogging just isn’t going to work. Sure, maybe it works for the other guys, but it’s just not for you. So you stop writing.

One less thing to worry about!

That’s easier. But it isn’t smarter.

If you aren’t getting visitors to your blog, that doesn’t mean you’ve straight up failed at blogging – it means it’s time to try new ways of driving traffic, like focusing on your email list. It might mean it’s time to rethink what you write about, or how you write about it.

Getting visitors on your website, but nobody’s opting in? That doesn’t mean you should give up on building a list – it means you should rethink what you’re offering, and how people are getting there.

All too often, we write off our failures as a sign to stop doing something instead of as a sign to improve.

This is why A/B testing is even a thing at all – and why it should be part of your strategy, even if you think it sounds like some next-level nonsense you don’t need in your life. The teensiest of adjustments can make a massive difference, so why scrap an entire idea instead of making a tweak? Why throw out your entire sales page when all you had to do was change one or two words?

Think of when you go to the doctor and they write you a prescription. If that particular medication doesn’t quite do the trick, the doctor doesn’t say, “Well, apparently medicine won’t work for you” – they prescribe something else, and you give that thing a try!

Prescription medicine

This is why we ask ourselves three very specific questions about every major thing we do here at Edgar – whether that task went well, or feels like it was a dud. Just like few things ever go 100% perfectly, few things ever go 100% wrong – which means throwing out your hard work and your attempted ideas wholesale is a mistake.

Instead, ask yourself these questions when you feel like what you’re doing isn’t working:

  • What exactly am I failing to accomplish?
  • What can I change about how I’m attempting this?
  • Which change(s) do I want to implement first?

Use a scalpel to refine your strategy – not a chainsaw. Almost nothing you do can’t go from a dud to a success with the right nipping and tucking! You just have to be patient, and willing to look at a failed attempt as an opportunity, rather than a total loss.

So don’t pull the kill switch on a disappointing project just yet.

Sure, setbacks are a drag. And it’s okay to be disappointed when you try something and it doesn’t turn out quite the way you’d hoped!

Just don’t take it as a sign you should stop what you’re doing, or that there’s no solution to the problem you want to solve. Think about doing things differently instead of giving up on them entirely – you might find that the solution you were hoping for is a lot closer than you’d realized!

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