Failures Anonymous

Some events change your life forever. Your first romantic rejection, your first couch rugby non-performance, and your first business implosion. The successes fade into the distance of time, but your mistakes haunt you forever.

When you win there is no recrimination, no “what if”. You bask in the sunlight of success, and there is no need to analyse why you got it right. People you never knew claim to be your friends, and strangers dream of following in your footsteps.

On the other hand, when your life falls about you in ruins, there is more than enough time to inspect your effort in the very harsh halogen of hindsight. Especially if you cannot find a job. Your friends claim never to have known you, or that they always knew you were flying too high. And strangers remain just that. “What-if” becomes a refrain that will not leave you, not even for a moment.

As an older person this is the aftermath of the hubris of entrepreneurship. As a younger person, this is what happens after that first romantic rejection, when you find the goddess of your dreams in the arms of your best friend. And both seem to have lost their clothes.

And it has a deep, searing impact on your psyche.

But, here is the thing. Failure is the diploma you must gain before you can achieve any lasting success. Failure teaches you so much. More than anything it teaches you that success, like failure, is always temporary. Of course, in the cold throes of failure, temporary is a good thing. In the warm arms of success, the thought that it might not last long is one better avoided.

Almost every one that we put on a pedestal has a few lapses they would rather not share. Experience cannot grow without being fertilised by mistakes.

Yet, when those mistakes happen, the person who has just seen his experience quotient leap also finds that the rest of the world looks upon him as if he is wearing said fertiliser, and it is a premium brand from the local pig farm.

Why do we so despise those business owners who close their firms when things implode? Why do we look down on them when they lose their homes, the result of signing papers to grow their ventures, and making sure that their staff do get paid.

A bunch of the people who have consulted me had spent the final year of their venture borrowing more and more money in a vain effort to reach the light at the end of their tunnel. Much of that money was spent on paying salaries. Yet that effort carries no weight when the firm closes. The owner is pilloried, no matter how great the sacrifice.

Each staff member simply needs to find a new job. While the owner faces at least five years of court appearances and judgments, each opening another vein. Yet each document is an intense learning experience, and frankly, should be on your power wall, just like a diploma or degree.

Almost twenty years ago, I promised someone that if I could help anyone for free, I would. At that time “´free” was impossible. Teaching, training or meeting cost money. But,with the advent of webinars, an almost free resource, I can help.

So, on Tuesday 28 February, at 8pm SA time, I will be running the first Failures Anonymous online gathering. You are welcome if you are in the throes of such a growth experience. Or if you’re sick at heart about business. Or if you’re finding it too heavy. Or if you have survived it, but still find it nagging.

You will be anonymous. Only I can see names and I won’t use anything other than first names. And even then, if you have a unique name, I won’t use it. So no chance of bumping into anyone you owe money to.

The most empowering thing for me was the realisation that I was not alone, that the problems I was facing were shared by a heck of a lot of people. The more folk I spoke to, the more stories emerged about common behaviours by banks and big players – and it was great to get perspective.

Join me, and maybe we will have enough momentum to do this every month. And if you know of anyone who is in this boat, please put in a good word for me and get them to come along. Or at least to get a stiff glass of whiskey and listen in.

Don’t expect it to be all plain sailing because I have a bunch of advice, tactics, strategies, and words for those of us wallowing in self pity. Been there. Done that. The T-shirt is in tatters, but I still keep it close by.

Book your seat here:

The End of Teaching as we know it?

When I was a kid I wanted to be a teacher. Early on in high school I realised that there wasn’t enough money in it to keep me in the style I wanted to become accustomed to. I think it must have been in Mrs FitzPatricks class, after she whacked me yet again for not paying attention. Wonderful teacher, with an inspiring ruler. I spent a lot of my early maths career dreaming rather than doing.

And so I got lost in the computer world, before life jolted me back into consulting in 1992, and soon after  my teaching life took over. I am embarrassed to admit that I have just one qualification. It is not in the teaching arena. So it has been a long, mistake-strewn path I have followed.

But, and here is the point I am aiming for, I have been teaching via webinars for almost four years. More than 1000 hours worth. And every teacher I meet assures me that it won’t work.

This strong opinion comes usually without ever having seen one. It has something to do with not being able to see the kids. I was shy and withdrawn at school, and didn’t much want to be seen, let alone to raise my hand and offer a wrong answer so that my peers could roll on the floor in mirth. This webinar approach allows us introverts to blossom.

Although, I still recall Mr Nel inhaling a fly and showing us some strenuous dance moves as he tried to cough it out. Sadly, that kind of experience is rare in real life, and almost impossible in webinar life.

But teachers are looking at it from a very narrow perspective, an all-or-nothing one. Integrating a webinar approach early would add immense value, increasing the reach of great teachers, while easing the impact of bad teachers.

Each time a new idea arrives that is obvious to the rest of us, the incumbents ignore it. They seem so fixed in their views that they cannot see it. Kodak was one of the most memorable, going into chapter 11 bankruptcy a few weeks ago.

I actually consulted with a couple back in 1998 who wanted to spend R2million on a Kodak franchise. I told them how untimely an idea it was. They went ahead anyway. And two years later I consulted with them about saving their home from the fallout.

A webinar is just such an obvious idea for adult trainers. Let me tell you why I love the concept.

Prepping for a live event is arduous and costly. The event must have ‘heft’ – be long enough for you to want to spend an evening in my company – even if the idea I want to share is just one hour long. Then there is the cost of the venue, hotel stay, printed notes, air ticket, car hire, food, and loss. (Each time I travel I return home without something that I really liked. Items include my passport, credit cards, laptop, insulin, power supply, and the like.)

Then there is the opportunity cost, time missed with my family. And the risk that Eskom won’t play ball on the day. And, of course, the risk that I won’t sell enough seats to pay for all of the above. In other words, for a speaker, the risks are daunting.

Contrast that with a webinar. Zero risk. The service costs about R500 per month, which allows me to run as  many ‘classes’ as I want to, 24/7. No notes are needed, because the service lets me record and share a video of each session a few hours later. (That lets me build a library of content that I can share or sell.) There is no risk or cost to delegates. The recording takes care of broken connections and family emergencies.

I don’t have to make an event longer than it needs to be. It can now stretch from 30 minutes to three hours (or all day) – as long as the material needs it to be.

No travel, and my cost per ’seat’ is down to less than R1, from R400 (in JHB). Maybe I am too stupid to see why it won’t work, but in the meantime I love my ignorance.

Sales Shyness

People assume that because I have made a living as a public speaker that I am a raving extrovert. I am not. I have been shy all my life. I break out in a sweat when surrounded by more than four people. I never understood this until I started reading a great book called Quiet.

I am an introvert, almost in the extreme. Maybe that is why I enjoy the process of writing so much. Writing is not a shared activity. It is a chance to inspect the flotsam littering the edge of your brain.

As you can imagine, being an introvert makes it tough to sell. I enjoy cold calls as much as I enjoy proctological procedures. (Hint: Once you have tried one you don’t want to do a second lap.)

Yet, I love the process of selling. I love to listen to folk talk about their problems. I love to hear their ideas, their dreams, their experiences. And at some point in each call, after they have cleared their souls, each will ask: ‘Why are you here?’ At that point, if I have an answer that adds value to any of the problems they have raised, I share it. Usually they want to buy my solution. No hype needed. It seems that the mere act of listening is so unusual that it is all that is needed for enough trust to build up. I rather like that.

So why is it that the world thinks salesfolk must be brash fast-takers? It is, I think, because people who talk fast and make quick decisions (often without enough data) are regarded more highly than people who prefer to think awhile. In a brain storming session, some of us are still thinking after the session is over, while the extroverts have filled the walls with ideas. (Research shows that brain storming with a bunch of people in the same box does not work.)

The Web has been a godsend for introverts. We have time to think. We can switch off the chatter. And we can brainstorm slowly, the way we like it. Instead of competing with the noise, we can type the beginning of an idea knowing it cannot be shouted down.

Regarding that public speaking issue, I stink. That is why I don’t do it much. What I prefer to do is to gather a group of people together, each wonderfully unique, but all sharing a specific problem that I understand. And then talk to one of them about that problem, usually someone in the fourth row. And in talking to one person, because they all share the same challenge, I am talking to all of them. Now that’s fun, and I hope it shows.

This introversion is one of the reasons I love the concept of interest-based marketing. Instead of pushing your product in front of all and sundry, hoping that it might resonate with one of the sundry, I find it so much easier to wait for people to look for what I sell. Then when they enquire, replying to their question is not a cold call. It is a chance to chat about a problem that I can usually help with. That makes it pretty stress-free, and most of those calls end with a ‘sale’.

I don’t measure them that way. It has never been about the money. That is simply a measure of how many people I can help, and how well I help them.