There’s a better way to do January. A better way to set goals and steer your business in 2020. Embrace the elephant in the room – that failure is a crucial part of success.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions, mainly because the last thing I feel like doing after a hard year of work is setting myself a challenging goal.

The only sort of goal I’m interested in around the holidays is whether I can fit four segments of Terry’s chocolate orange in my mouth at once. Failing that, I might have a go at persuading the family to watch Attack the Block yet again (if you’re not familiar with it, it’s clearly one of the greatest British movies ever made). It’s a time of year when even the thought of making myself a better person sounds exhausting.

Even so, I also get that New Year’s Resolutions (NYRs) are a thing, as is goal setting in business. For those driven people who can actually be bothered to get dressed between Xmas and New Year, the symbolism that 1st January represents is compelling.

If you insist on doing the resolution thing, then this year, how about starting a new tradition – focus on failure. I think every NYR I’ve ever heard is about success; 5 kilos lighter, 5 kilos heavier, stop swearing so much, swear more than ever, blah blah blah.

That’s all good, they all share that characteristic about winning. Goal setting geeks (there is such a species, I work with a few of them) might add layers to this in the form of different levels of success. It goes something like this; Gold – swear every day and make one of them a word that would shock your ancestors; Silver – swear at least 3 days a week; Bronze… oh fuck this, I’m bored; pass me that chocolate orange.

Anyway, you get the jist.

Failure: it’s different to not winning

The thing is, goals and NYRs, they are all different versions of winning. We often set them, with a focus on winning.

We know it can be helpful to know where we’re headed, but how often, when we’re thinking about NYRs or setting goals for our business, do we factor in failure?

The same reasons that drive us to define what a picture of success looks like (motivation, focus, discipline of choice etc.) are equally served by a decent picture of failure.

And failure is more than simply not winning.

Failure: The key ingredient to winning

When I was a kid, there was a particular week I can still remember; in 7 days, I fell off my bike trying to ride with no hands while eating a banana, the girl I fancied told me she’d rather eat her own hair than go to the cinema with me and I caught one of my body parts in the zip of my jeans.

It taught me two things. Firstly, that God didn’t love me and secondly, that failure was part of the human condition.

If that’s true (and I’m pretty sure it is), then if we don’t define failure, our only reference point is some sort of victory and life’s just not like that. If we don’t define failure, then we deny our humanity and our reality; in the absence of defining failure, improvement on last year might still feel like losing, even though you’re better than you were. That can’t be right.

Defining failure is the baseline below which you are determined not to fall. That’s different from not winning.

Acceptable failure. What’s your flavour?

Nelson Mandela once said “I never lose. I either win or learn.”

Catching one of my body parts in the zip of my jeans, meant I wasn’t likely to do it again.

Failure, is an opportunity to learn and start again. It doesn’t mean the goal has ended or your picture of success has been erased.

But knowing what failure looks like, embracing that elephant in the room and defining what it is you don’t want to happen, is just as important as defining what you do want to happen. It’s the full picture.

Failure, like winning, is available in acceptable or unacceptable flavours. What is acceptable failure to you and your business? What’s unacceptable failure?

If this is shit you don’t know yet, then be prepared to feel like you’ve failed, when the truth is that you might just not have won…yet.

There’s a better way

There’s a better way to do January. A better way to set goals.

A better way to steer your business in 2020.

Just what could be won, if you define your acceptable failure baseline first? 

If you’d like to try a different way – a better way – get in touch.

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