Why Your 'Near Win' Could Be Your Best Opportunity As a start-up, there's nothing more devastating than losing a deal you thought was yours, or realising your great idea isn't the game-changer you thought it was. But there's an upside to those 'near misses' - they're excellent opportunities to learn from and perfect your offering.
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By good fortune, I started my career in a commonly misunderstood and widely overlooked sub-sector within the aviation industry, load control. Don't be embarrassed if you don't know what that is. In simple terms, load control focuses on the safety of passengers and the weight and balance of an aircraft.
The work ensures that the centre of gravity is always within certified limits and structural weight and balance restrictions are never exceeded. A huge responsibility, even for the trained and desensitised. For most of us hyper-ambitious individuals, when we don't get to "the top' as per the initial plan, we tend to wonder whether it was even worth it to start our journey. We lose our centre of gravity.
Being one of the two selected candidates (after a nationwide search with over 500 applicants) for a world-class management trainee programme and later moving on from that "fairly clear path to success', I'd always felt like I had failed, and dismally.
Let me explain. The programme was aimed exclusively at nurturing new talent within Global Load Control. It was industry-specific, and when I secured such a coveted spot, I felt on top of the world — my path was clear. Except it wasn't. I realised I wanted a different environment where I could get exposure to working with entrepreneurs, especially because by then I had spent time within the Cape Town start-up ecosystem.
I knew exactly why I was moving on, but it still felt like I'd failed. Here's the harsh truth: Nearly winning is failure, but that's okay. We learn from failure. I've established my own core values and I've dared to speak up and write my own narrative. I've learnt to own my purpose. The road hasn't always been easy, but in hindsight, it's definitely been worth it.
CREATING A COMPELLING NEED
I have an innate ability to choose industries that aren't open to changing their status quo. I then intentionally challenge and critique how the systems in those industries have been operating. This means things rarely go my way.
It's the entrepreneurial mindset, whether you're starting a business or employed, to question everything, and that's my mantra — I always ask "why?' The problem is that even though I know I have a solution my customers need, because I'm challenging the status quo, they don't always see things my way.
As an entrepreneur, I've learnt that understanding the reason behind the multiple "not yet' and "nos' from your ideal first customers is a gift. But in order for you to claim that gift, you have to be committed to the process of understanding your customer's needs.
Multiple authors and experts will tell you that however good your product or service is, the simple truth is that no one will buy it if they don't want it or don't believe they need it. And you won't be able to persuade anyone that they want or need to buy what you're offering unless you clearly understand what it is your customers want.
One aspect that isn't being sufficiently discussed, is the fact that committing to that process is going to be uncomfortable and even painful in some cases. Really digging into your customer's business to the point that you can offer them a real solution that they need takes confidence, resilience, hard work and sometimes even a thick skin if your customer or prospect pushes back.
You need to really believe in your solution — but you also need to be willing to change what isn't working. Entrepreneurs are people too, and let's face it, no parent wants to hear that their baby (or business or business idea) is ugly. Nurturing a positive view of yourself, finding ways of developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience as an entrepreneur.
And yes, that means that sometimes you have to face the truth and change what isn't working in your business. When facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion because that terrible feeling of not winning at first will wear off, eventually.
STIMULATION FOR FURTHER ACHIEVEMENT AND MASTERY
When we don't complete projects perfectly, it can feel as though we've failed. However, "near wins' are important steps in achieving our long-term goals.
Near wins are almost, if not always, more important than actual wins, as they set in motion a constant pursuit of improvement. In her brilliant TED Talk Embrace the Near Win, Sarah Lewis deep dives into the concept of the near win and how it's instrumental in achieving success.
I, like most people, have experienced my own set of near wins. According to Sarah, that's okay, because failure is what we experience on the way to mastery. And mastery is ultimately more important than success. Sarah defines success as a single moment. Something that comes and goes and is a byproduct of effort.
However, what she calls mastery, is the act of working towards something. A system for continuing to set and reach for goals. As I've personally learnt, being engaged in that system is a crucial element in mastering your goal. Purposeful efforts make life interesting.
STAY ON YOUR OWN LEADING EDGE
More will always be required of you. That's a fact. Recovering from failure requires sufficient strength and an ability to support your sense of well-being while managing the stresses brought about by failure. The trick is learning the art of bouncing back. The term most often used is resilience.
The Road to Resilience, a publication of the American Psychological Association and the Discovery Health Channel, offers a useful definition. "Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — like family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.
"Find ways that are likely to work well for YOU as part of YOUR own personal strategy for fostering resilience and overcoming failure. Along pathways to success and mastery, entrepreneurs, change agents and leaders alike will find adversity, doubt, and near wins. How you manage those is what matters, so learn and adjust where necessary."
One last thing I would like to stress is learning to cope with who you are as a person. Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. I know it's a cliché but it's also essential to your overall well-being and success. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing.
Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience. Protect your peace because you can't possibly function in chaos. Remember this, the dark moments that will come will also pass, so focus on getting that shine on. Cheers to celebrating your next near win.
- It's called "the entrepreneurial journey' for a reason. It might take you a bit of time to see the value of some lessons and that's okay, the light bulb will go on eventually.
- Accept that you don't know everything. While you may start to build a business and it actually begins to work, don't think that you've become a Mrs/Mr know-it-all. Continue to learn from your customers and the people around you.
- It's not all about you and your idea. Your business will exist because there's a value exchange between yourself and your customer. Be very clear about what that value is and how you can keep improving on it.
- Find a mentor. By that I mean someone who's actually built a business and succeeded, not an entrepreneurship activist. Inspiring entrepreneurship activists are fine, but it helps to have a solid sounding board and that takes experience, and someone who has experienced failure themselves.
- Breathe. Starting a business is hard, growing one is hard and running one is hard. Doing this day in and day out can be exhausting. Remember to celebrate the small wins and avoid the notion that you have to land some fantastic, outstanding client or reach thousands of customers before celebrating. Rejoice over the first customer or transaction, or over squashing a minor coding bug in a few days.
EMBRACE THE NEAR WIN BY SARAH LEWIS
"My triumphs are not merely the result of a grand achievement, but of the propulsion of a lineage of near wins."— Arctic explorer Ben Saunders
Sarah Lewis is an art historian and critic who celebrates creativity and shows how it can lead us through fear and failure to ultimate success
In her talk Embrace the Near Win, Sarah Lewis shares the following insights:
- Success is a moment, but what we're always celebrating is creativity and mastery. The secret is converting successes – big, small and near misses – into mastery. This starts with the value you give to a near win.
- Success is achieving a specific goal, but mastery is knowing that it means nothing if you can't do it again and again.
- Mastery is not the same as excellence. It's also not the same as success, which is an event, a moment in time, and a label that the world confers upon you. Mastery is not a commitment to a goal but to a constant pursuit.
- In other words, the pursuit of mastery is an ever-onward almost.
- Mastery is in the reaching, not the arriving. It's in constantly wanting to close that gap between where you are and where you want to be.
- Success motivates us, but a near win can propel us in an ongoing quest.