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Hire Slow, Fail Fast, and Learn Faster

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“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” These words were once spoken by J. K. Rowling, famous British writer, and I believe they should be applied to a person’s success.

Failure is the best teacher. But we don’t often talk about the ‘F’ word in business because it’s often seen as a weakness, rather than a critical learning opportunity. Where this misconception came from, I have no idea. Some of your favorite musicians were rejected from major record labels before getting their big break. Many of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars tanked countless auditions before finally getting a single phone call back. Even Jeff Bezos wrote in a letter to his shareholders that, “If the size of your failures isn’t growing, you’re not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle.”

Those who have made it to the big leagues all have stories — often multiple — to tell of failure, and they credit that to their success. So why don’t we talk about this more? Today’s business leaders must understand that in order to build a legacy, they can’t be afraid to roll with the punches. 

The business world is unpredictable by nature. You can spend years nurturing an idea only to have a half-cocked plan turn out to be a million-dollar deal. The path to success isn’t for the easily deterred. It’s packed with rejection and criticism, both constructive and devastatingly harsh. Leaders must be comfortable taking the risks that will keep them at the forefront of their industries. They must be wise about who they allow on their teams, while embracing their own failures as a strategy for growth. In other words, they must hire slow, fail fast, and learn faster. 

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

Pause before you hire

Whether someone chooses to move on from your company or a new role is identified within your organization, it’s tempting to want to move quickly to fill the void. Instead of haphazardly posting online, exploiting your contact list, and frantically interviewing in hopes of finding a new hire that day, take a step back to regroup.

Hiring from a desperate place is a surefire way to get the wrong people on board, which could slow down production, devastate your company culture, and even damage your reputation in the industry. This slow-and-steady approach is not only the best way forward, it will put you in front of the best candidate for the job.

Leaders that are trying to survive while short-handed can be completely oblivious to the reliable employees and other options that lie at their fingertips. Take stock of who you already have on the job. Are they carrying their weight? Are they making the most out of the time and resources that have been afforded to them? Have they stepped up as a leader and are ready to take on additional responsibilities? Taking care of the workers that you have already appointed may help you arrive at the solution that you have been looking for instead of putting you in a predicament to lose your investment on a bad hire. 

However, if your tasks truly outweigh your manpower, getting more hands on deck will be the answer to your troubles. But you need to make sure you’ve nailed down a steadfast hiring process first. Think in terms of quality, and have a firm set of attributes in mind that will rule out those who aren’t qualified for the job, even if their resumes are impressive at first glance. This could take several interviews with various candidates, but it’s a small price to pay to level up your business with devoted workers who are capable of handling the challenges ahead.

Fail forward and do so often

In an effort to avoid mistakes, a lot of leaders allow fear to paralyze them to a point where they’re unable to convince themselves to take any action at all. This delusional stance leads to a failure by omission, which only ends in even greater fear and stagnancy. So, while it is expertly advised to make slow hires, the truth isn’t the same for taking the necessary risks to further a company’s success. In these cases, you will want to fail fast, but do so in a way that minimizes your losses and puts you further ahead than you were before.

This concept of failing fast may be hard for a lot of leaders to comprehend. It’s hard enough for people to admit to their failures, let alone welcoming those failures so that they can continue forging ahead. Failing fast in a forward motion does not mean jumping into poorly-thought-out situations or betting it all without the possibility of a return that is worthwhile. It is, however, about taking risks, executing ideas, and figuring out what went wrong so that you are able to jump back into the game as soon as possible.

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho

Learn from your failures

Failures are never fun in the moment, but they’re an inevitable part of business. Think of them as your best source of feedback. Mistakes shine a spotlight on any weaknesses and vulnerabilities that exist within your organization, and even within yourself. Let them inform your flaws so that you can strengthen your foundation as you continue to push ahead. When you gain something from failure, it isn’t a defeat at all.  

The next time you face rejection, take a step back, ask plenty of questions, and apply those answers to create an opportunity to make an even greater impact thereafter. Some of your most significant successes will come as a result of the tough lessons learned from your misfortunes, making failure worth the bet each and every time.

To be truly exceptional in such competitive and volatile industries, you must be willing to try your hand time and time again. Last week’s ‘nos’ won’t doom you to failure, and a recent ‘yes’ may soon lose its relevance if you neglect to show up again. True triumph lies in your ability to endure failures like a champ, make fast recoveries, and be on your way to conquering your next mission.

James F. Kenefick is a New York-based entrepreneur, early stage investor, and technology expert. He is the Managing Partner at Azafran Capital Partners and is a Board Member at Yobe, Inc. and BetterWorld Technology. James is also an active, long-standing member of the 
Young President’s Organization (YPO).

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