I’ve heard that the best way to double your success rate is to double your failure rate. The rationale is that if you have to fail a few times before you can have a success, you’ll get more successes if you have more failures. I think it works in some instances but in other cases can make your situation worse. Especially if you take it too literally.
Where it works:
It works best in situations where failing isn’t really failing — it’s merely not succeeding such as in sales (or dating). In these situations one failure doesn’t prevent other successes. If you typically close one in every five pitches or so, then statistically speaking, you’ll close more by failing more because you’ll be pitching more. When I was looking for work back in 2003, I remember estimating that I’d definitely get an offer if I went on 50 interviews so I started lining up the interviews (and fortunately, it didn’t take me 50 to get my first offer).
It also works in situations where you’re trying to solve a problem especially with the trial and error technique. As you rule out solutions that don’t work, you get closer to the one that does — such as the infamous story of Thomas Edison failing 9999 times before successfully inventing the light bulb.
Where it doesn’t work:
If you’re in a situation where a failure can prevent future successes, this technique won’t work for you. For example, I teach classes and coach people. If I took the approach of trying to help everyone who is willing to hire me — even if I’m not qualified to help them — figuring that for every two where things don’t work out, I’ll really succeed with another, it would be a disaster. When you’re hired to do a job and you don’t perform well, then you have an angry customer. And we all know that angry customers talk about their experiences more than happy customers.
So if I tried to help someone in an area that I know little about and didn’t succeed, it would reflect poorly on me. I’ve very careful about who I coach and which classes I offer for this reason. I’m often asked to create special custom courses for organizations that have an area they want to improve. If it’s an area that I’m knowledgeable in then I’ll work with them. If it’s something I know very little about, I’ll say so and recommend someone else. I’d rather create a long term relationship with them versus making a quick buck.
The one thing to keep in mind too is that too many failures can have a bad effect on some people. Some of the greatest successes have been due to persistence and perseverance. But if that’s something you’re comfortable with, it can get you down, steal your momentum, make you depressed and has even resulted in suicide in some folks.
So perhaps these words of wisdom should be rephrased: to double your success rate, double your actions. Or, perhaps learning from your failures will help you have more successes.