Success requires willingness to fail

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
November 10, 2013

I recently wrote a book of children’s devotionals about spirituality and personal responsibility. In case you missed my booth at a recent Christmas shopping fair, I encourage you to buy one for everyone on your gift list.

For some inexplicable reason, merely the sight of my picture and book sitting on an otherwise lonely table did not push my masterpiece to the top of the New York Times best-seller list.

But my three-day experience wasn’t a complete failure.

I spent several hours in an environment that was only barely removed from the economic freedom of a laissez-county-faire or carnival.

There were willing buyers, eager sellers and almost no barriers to entry.

There was lots of orange clothing.

The 78-year-old man selling foot-massaging mats tried to impress me by standing on one foot for almost a minute.

A guy with a tattoo on his face was selling magic wraps that would both alleviate your back pain and make you slim.

There were lots of people selling similar-looking silver-colored jewelry, all complaining about the number of vendors who were there selling silver-colored jewelry.

Knoxville’s Ron Emery was there, with a lot of cool stuff from Emery’s 5 and 10 store. I really liked Ron’s booth. And I loved his battery-powered bicycle.

The Santa posing for pictures had a great beard, but he looked like he’d had gastric by-pass surgery. Or was just wearing one of face tattoo man’s miracle wraps.

Some of the vendors were tiptoeing into the entrepreneurial waters for the first time. It was fun to talk to them.

The professional trade show people—the jewelry cleaners and scarf sellers—mostly complained about a lack of attendance at this particular show. Several of them blamed the poor attendance on Obamacare.

The best part was watching the crazy pillow guy, that obnoxious salesman you try to avoid. “Come here. You’re gorgeous and you can’t help it.”

That was his typical opening sales line.

But crazy pillow guy was evidence of a business truth that we all intellectually understand, but seldom see demonstrated so vividly.

In order to succeed, you must be willing to fail. And fail often. And even fail embarrassingly.

I haven’t seen the state sales tax reports, but I am certain crazy pillow guy made more money than any other vendor at this event. I am also convinced he was rejected more than any other vendor.

Success doesn’t require being obnoxious, but it does require a willingness to fail. Crazy pillow guy was willing to fail. He understood what former IBM Chairman Thomas Watson meant when he said that to increase your success rate you need to double your failure rate.

Failure is an opportunity to learn how not to succeed. If our eventual success requires a number of false starts, then we are better served by getting them out of the way quickly.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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