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The Blessing of a Good Mistake

Written by Jim Coyle on May 18, 2015

Implementers EOS Failure Leadership Teams

The Blessing of a good mistakeSetback, flop, mistake, screw-up, failure, fiasco, botch or—as I like to think of these things—wonderful opportunities to figure out how not to do something.

About inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." We have all had failures and, I am sorry to say, we will all have them again. But, as my Dad once said to me, paraphrasing Vince Lombardi, "It isn't that you got knocked down that matters. It's that you get up, that makes the difference." It's always easier for the one lending a hand than the guy on the ground, but it's still very true.

Learning from Failure

One of my favorite personal screw-ups I had the "pleasure" of making is when I owned a bar and restaurant in Chicago called Coyle's Tippling House. Let me set the stage for how things played out. We were coming up on our first New Year's Eve party and I was getting more and more excited since we had had a few tough weeks and could use an influx of cash. New Year's Eve was going to be just what we needed to pay a few bills and start the year off right. I sat down with my chef and bar manager and worked out what we thought we would need for the night in the way of food and beverages. It sounded like it was going to be a great menu and we had designed some fun drink concoctions that would be a wonderful way to ring in the New Year. We agreed we would begin to order everything we would need in a couple weeks.

Over the next couple of days, I started to sketch out the costs for our fun night, and as I did, I had a terrible realization. We didn't have the money we needed to buy the product, which we needed to sell so we could have the money that we needed. My verbal exclamation at this discovery was not for the tender-hearted. I realized that I should have never gotten to this point in December without knowing I didn't have the cash flow to buy the product. There had to be a better way of figuring this out but, alas there I was. I realized I really needed to work this through with my team. My furious independent streak was trying to hold me back from getting help but luckily my sense of urgency pushed me through. We had a really good meeting and worked out a plan B.

Our plan was a four-pronged solution. First, we developed a different approach to the night (read: cheaper). It was still going to be a great night but maybe we didn't need to overdo it. Then we worked out a deal with our vendors to slowly bring in the product we needed but still give us the quantity discount as if we bought everything we needed at once. We could purchase what we needed when we had the cash and not have to do it all at once and at the last minute. The third step was to do whatever I could to book a few bigger events and acts through December 31st. The last step was to begin to sell tickets at a discounted rate if people bought them early. We had just over three weeks to make all of this work.

I can happily say that we pulled it off. We were literally getting product from our vendors on the 31st and probably lost a couple thousand dollars due to the discounts but we still had a great party that filled the coffers.

Two Big Lessons Learned

I learned two big lessons through this process. First, I learned it takes a leadership team to build an amazing company. I realized that individually I could only take the company so far. Now, to be honest, I still battled with my "I-can-do-it-all" demon but at least I found out that it takes a team to make a company great. In the work I do now, implementing EOS, I've realized that the distance a one-man or one-woman act can take a company varies, but the end result is always the same. You can't build a great company without a great leadership team.

The second lesson I learned was that a team needs to have the right tools so they don't end up behind the 8-ball like I did. These tools will take on different forms (i.e., weekly scorecard, budget, weekly team meetings, quarterly priorities, defined processes, etc.), but a company needs to have a way it does business—a set approach to accomplish the beauty it brings into the world.

After selling my restaurant, I went on a quest to find and develop this approach because business doesn't have to be so complex and chaotic. This is a worthy quest for all business owners. Find or develop the tools and then find or develop your team.

Remember, as you work through all your issues, it took Edison 10,000 mistakes to create the light bulb. Get out there and build an amazing company on the shoulders of all your great mistakes!

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