Rather than wallowing in your missteps, turn failure into strength. By accepting your failures and analyzing what went wrong, you can learn from the experience and leverage that learning into “fail-proofing” your business.
Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
They walk among us, you know the type. Those people who post quotable sayings on their social sites; Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, you name it, there’s a stream of nothing but quote after quote after quote.
It can be annoying to the non-quote lovers out there such as myself, but at times a quote rolls across my screen that really hits home.
Several years ago, such a gem came into my life. It was from Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Someone who has unquestionably been wildly successful in his chosen profession, and in business — the man made $110 million dollars in 2015, 12 years after he retired.
So when this quote from Jordan about his failures popped up, it grabbed my attention:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Let’s get past the fact that there’s a chance Jordan didn’t say it until someone very good at writing ad copy for Nike wrote it for a commercial. I also haven’t fact-checked it. But I don’t care, because it’s a great message, and one that’s important for real estate agents to keep in mind.
Failure is hard
As humans, we aren’t wired to readily accept failure. If you are the least bit competitive (and let’s face it, most people in real estate are) you’ve probably said the very words, “Failure is not an option!”
Think that all you like, but the reality is failure happens — often quite frequently. Despite our desires to never fail, we are fallible human beings. I’m going to fail, you are going to fail, we’re all going to fail.
Accepting that can go a long way to making failure tolerable. It’s hard, we don’t like it, but the fat is, failure happens. Learn to deal with it. You don’t have to like to fail, that would be weird.
Understanding that life deals us lousy cards sometimes, that not everything you create is flawless, and that failure can make us stronger are all lessons we should have learned early in life. They’re tough lessons though, so our brain shoves them into the back of the filing cabinet, and we forget. Again, welcome to being human.
It’s important to understand, and remind yourself that failing is OK. It doesn’t make you a loser, it doesn’t mean you are not talented, smart, or capable. It just means something didn’t work out quite how you expected.
Learning from failure
Here’s the deal: If you go through life, failing left and right with one thing after another not working out, then you’ve got a problem. Accepting failure as a part of life doesn’t mean failure dominates and controls your life. You need to learn, remember, and improve from your failures. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes not so much.
If you think about it, you’ve been learning from your failures since very early in life.
I don’t remember it, because it happened when I was very young, a toddler. I’m pretty sure it went like this:
I reach for the stove. My mom says, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot!” I touch the stove. Maybe start crying.
Big fail. I failed to listen, believe, trust, whatever it is that runs through a kid’s head. So I ignored my mom (probably not for the first time and most certainly not the last time), reached out, touched the stove and burnt my finger.
I’m almost certain I’ve never intentionally touched a hot stove again. I learned. It was a hard lesson (for a 2-year-old). It hurt. But it created a memory, added to my “database,” taught me a lesson, and imprinted some things in my head.
If you can learn from your failures, you can improve and grow.
A more adult and pertinent example of failing would be the time I decided to add property management to the services my real estate brokerage provided. At the time, this seemed smart. We had a lot of clients buying investment properties to rent.
Lots of Canadians buying second homes and renting them out part time. It was logical to provide the services these clients needed rather than just passing them along. Plus another revenue stream is rarely a bad idea.
So what went wrong? My lack of experience combined with a small dose of “how hard can it be?” wound up causing some problems down the road. It wasn’t some awful epic failure that resulted in lawsuits and pissed off clients. It was more a string of small and annoying fails that when added together made property management a bigger hassle than it was worth.
We made some money, but not as much as we should have. Our clients were well-served (many begged us not to stop doing property management).
As the small failures piled up, often punctuated with “Property management was the worst idea EVER!” we learned. We grew. We matured. Taking failure as a natural part of the process, our PM division grew and served our clients well, painful as it was.
Analyze your failures
So we know there will be failures, and that’s OK, but it’s important to understand what are the potential failure points and their consequences. This allows you to mitigate them before they even occur. If you’re like most, sometimes this will be easy, sometimes not, and the odds are good you’ll miss some things that cause you to enter failure recovery mode on the fly.
Here’s a grossly oversimplified look at failure analysis:
I like to drive fast. If I chose to drive fast and something on my car fails — lets say a tire — what are the potential consequences? At the extreme, a tire blows out, I lose control, crash and die — or worse take, someone else out. Far less serious, though annoying, I get a speeding ticket.
So I analyze my failure risks, and work to reduce or eliminate some of the potential consequences. In this example, I can find an open road to speed on, one where no one else is so if a tire blows I can’t careen into oncoming traffic and wipe out a family. I can reduce the chances of an annoying ticket by also finding the right road, using a radar detector, bribing a cop (I kid!).
I know, lame example, but there’s not enough space here to delve into the depths of failure analysis. Hopefully you get the point.
Failure can be serious
The last thing I want people to do is read this article and think, “He’s got a point. We’re going to fail. Might as well embrace it and make some good from it” without also fully grasping that failure can be serious, with far-reaching repercussions. I don’t want anyone to take a cavalier attitude about failure.
One needs to look no further than Boeing for a prime example of failure gone horribly wrong.
We’re talking about the now grounded 737 MAX airplane — 346 people killed, a $40 billion drop in market capitalization, one fired CEO and Boeing has had to take $10 billion in loans to get through this. Incalculable damage to their brand has occurred. From most reports out there, this is a failure of epic proportions.
Sure, that’s an extreme example. It’s highly unlikely that any failure in the real estate space will kill people and cost billions of dollars. It’s certainly possible however, that a significant failure could cause clients financial harm, damage your brand and perhaps cause you to seek employment elsewhere.
Understand that failure, while potentially quite serious, is inevitable. Analyze your goals and the paths to potential pitfalls, learn from the failures you experience and leverage that learning into “fail-proofing” your business.
Like Jordan, you are going to miss a lot of shots. You’re not going to win every game. But you can learn from your mistakes and use that knowledge to grow.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.
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