A Proven Formula for Failure

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When I was back in high school, a friend of mine started a rock and roll band which lasted all of a week. When I asked him why they broke up, he said, “Well, we had one practice, and it was pretty clear that we’d never be as good as the Beatles, so we quit.” Leaving aside the question of whether one practice session is really enough to determine, with certainty, that you’ll never be as good as the Beatles (after all, the Beatles’ first practice session was no great shakes either), you really have to marvel at that kind of defeatism. It’s like saying, “I’ll never be as rich as Bill Gates, so why bother starting a business?”

If you’re going to compare yourself to the Beatles or Bill Gates or Picasso or Tiger Woods, then yeah, you’re probably going to come out on the short end of the stick. It seems kind of silly to quit (or never start) an endeavor because you can’t surpass those impossibly high benchmarks. Some people, however, give up at the prospect of far lower thresholds. Are you one of them?

Have you ever found yourself thinking anything like these examples:

  • I’ll never sell as many widgets per month as Tom, so why am I busting my butt?
  • I’ll never be as smart as Denise anyway, so why spend all weekend studying?
  • I’ll never be able to afford a Mercedes, so I guess my 1988 Hyundai will have to do.

Pretty convenient formula, isn’t it? “I’ll never [fill in the blank], so I won’t attempt [goal x].” It’s an easy excuse. And it’s far more common than you may think.

Take a look at your own business, your own career, your own life. What would you undertake if you knew that you could be as successful as the Beatles, Bill Gates, Picasso, or Tiger Woods? I’d like to suggest that you undertake those things anyway. There are plenty of hugely successful bands that aren’t in the same league as the Beatles; there are plenty of wealthy entrepreneurs who have nowhere near Bill Gate’s net worth; there are artists and golfers who are doing quite well without being Picasso or Tiger Woods. Maybe you won’t sell as many widgets as Tom; you could still sell enough to make a very nice living. And who knows—with a slight shift in attitude, you (and Tom) could be in for quite a surprise.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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