If you’ve ever feasted on chicken wings, you know the ritual: You eat the meat, spit out the bones and set your gaze on the next one. But you probably didn’t realize that this technique applies to entrepreneurship.
Whether you’re forced to lay off an employee or lose a client, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. No matter how tough that wing might be, it has some good (the meat) and bad (the bone) -- and learning to distinguish the two will prepare you to confidently tackle the next one.
Separating the meat from the bone
Because we remember negative experiences more vividly than positive ones, recognizing the bones and gristle isn’t always easy. However, by learning from tough experiences rather than burying them, you’ll position yourself to succeed the next time around. Reframing these presumably negative experiences as learning lessons can drastically improve your outlook.
Our company once lost our biggest account and assumed we were on the brink of going under. Instead of folding, we rebounded and even broke a growth plateau. How did things go from bad to good so quickly?
We realized we’d been channeling our energy into maintaining one account and, in doing so, had neglected smaller accounts with huge growth potential. If we’d focused solely on the loss and begun preparing for the worst, we would have left a lot of meat on the bone. By finding the meat, we didn’t just survive the negative experience; we flourished.
Consider these four guidelines for separating the meat from the bone in your business:
1. Correct your culture first.
Don’t encourage an environment where failure is met with discipline. This mentality will only stifle risk-taking and growth. Offer a safe haven for new ideas, but keep in mind that you still need accountability -- and that that’s different than failure from experimentation.
2. Encourage experimentation, and practice servant leadership.
Intuit’s Scott Cook advocates asking team members who have presented an idea to design an experiment and define the metrics that accompany successful and unsuccessful outcomes. This way, you can review an objective and quickly decide whether to implement the idea while exposing your team to new experiences and lessons.
When you encourage employees to test assumptions fast and use those findings to dictate the strategic direction of the company, you’re empowering your team’s growth and practicing servant leadership.
3. Don’t sweep failures under the rug.
The next time a relationship sours or a deal goes south, sit down with your team and discuss why. Work through each perceived failure with this simple practice: First, take a piece of paper and draw two columns, labeling one “Meat” and one “Bones.” Write down the learning lessons (and good things) on the left and the bad that resulted from the experience on the right.
After you finish, rip the paper in half and toss away the bones. Even worst-case scenarios are highly unlikely to be meatless, and this will help you mentally reframe those experiences as carrying some worth. By focusing on the meat, you and your team can internalize the lessons and apply those the next time around.
4. Redefine your cultural perception of failure.
Set clear expectations for your team, and use them as benchmarks for success or failure. For example, if someone promises to spend 25 hours on a project and tells you on Friday afternoon that he's only managed 20, that’s not an acceptable failure -- it’s the result of a lack of communication regarding a commitment. Instead, encourage people to try ideas that they hope will work, continually refine expectations and communicate their progress. Teach them to look for the valuable meat the experience has to offer if things don’t work out.
When you dive into a bucket of chicken wings, remember the parallels with your journey as an entrepreneur. Life doesn’t always serve up the meaty ones, but there’s much to learn in even the worst of experiences. When you start seeing the morsels of good within the bad, every new experience will fuel your success.