Did I succeed or fail is not a very useful question – It is better to ask ‘am i still learning’ – Bob Sutton
a Professor in Organisational design at Stanford University has developed a
tradition over his 30 years of teaching; on the last day when asking students
to reflect back on what they learnt he would hand out his list of ‘Things
I believe’ offering them his own insights on management and life – I expect the
students love it, it certainly pulls no punches including ‘Fear the Clusterfug’
and ‘big teams suck’ (It’s well worth a read – you can find it
here https://buff.ly/2HAsdb5 )
However the one that stands out to me is Number 11
“Am I a success or a failure?” is not
a very useful question. It is better to ask, “what am I learning.”
Remember back to when you first started in business? Everything was new
and an opportunity to learn; the first meeting, the first client; you trialled
and tested, asked questions and made changes, each milestone was reviewed and
shaped the next steps.
However, as time goes on it’s easy to fall into the trap of categorising things
into Success or Failure. Yet a critical part of any plan is the review
step – not just did it work but most importantly what did we learn that we can
apply in future to increase success.
can I apply this to my business?
Whilst your overall business strategy review is best reviewed annually, build
into your diary dates for monthly or quarterly reviews against your action
Key questions to ask here are:
What did I
plan to do? What did I expect the outcome to be?
What did I actually do? – If there were any changes compared to the plan; what
internal or external forces were driving these changes?
What was the result? Measure the outcome against your expectation.
But don’t stop there – the next question is the most valuable
How can I improve, change, adapt for success (or greater success) in the
plan should be a live document, your plans, especially in the early days will
be based on forecasts and educated guesses, that’s OK; each time you review your
forecasts will get more accurate and the guesses become more educated.
If the results are above your expectations, ensure you celebrate your success;
even if that celebration is simply sharing the success with others who you know
will be proud and supportive of your achievements.
If the results didn’t live up to your expectations, Paul McGee (the SUMO guy) includes ‘What can I learn from this?’ as one of the key questions to help us to avoid
dwelling on the past and enable us to ‘Shut Up & Move On’ to greater
I wonder what Bob Sutton would say to that?
Janet Doran is based in North Yorkshire, UK and works
with freelancers, sole traders and small business owners helping them to answer
questions such as ‘how can we stand out from our competitors, attract customers
and win new business?’, developing business strategies to create Competitive
Advantage. Find out more at www.thepositivepen.co.uk or follow her on