Entrepreneurs, freelancers and small business owners tend to be optimistic – it would be difficult to take the bold step of going it alone if you weren’t. But that optimism can sometimes lead us to brush over some of our weaknesses and focus on the positives and how they will lead to our inevitable business success.
But it can be useful to take a different, pessimistic perspective.
Imagine yourself in three-years' time.
You’re sat, alone, with your head in your hands.
You're on the verge of quitting, a long way from achieving business success.
Your family will be devastated. You have bills to pay …
Then there is the crushing embarrassment – after all the big ideas and positive talk, you’re a failure. You don’t want to see your friends.
Your mind is crowded with thoughts – ‘Can I get a job? Do I really have to go back to being told what to do? How will I pay the mortgage?’
You’re frustrated – with others, but mostly with yourself: ‘if only I had … ’
And now the critical question for you to answer: what went wrong?
This activity, contemplating failure, is the starting point for something called a pre-mortem (developed by Gary Klein and drawing on the Stoics’ premeditation of evil). The idea is that by imagining this catastrophe, you will feel the raw pain of failure and this will compel you to identify the current weaknesses in your business – and yourself.
And then you can do something about them!
A pre-mortem can give you a more balanced perspective and, just as important, it can channel the primitive energy that spurs you into actually doing something.
It’s e-motions that drive action.
Failing to Achieve Business Success
So, take a moment and imagine yourself sitting, head in hands, contemplating your failed business.
What is most likely to have gone wrong?
Now typically you’ll begin by blaming things like the economy taking a dive, bad customers or unfair competition.
But these are excuses, not reasons.
These are things outside of your control but they do not define your response or your success.
If you’re prepared, you can adapt. So now turn the spotlight onto yourself.
Taking Action to Achieve Business Success
What are the things that you could have done better that would have enabled you not only to cope but to thrive? What personal weaknesses do you have that need to be overcome or manage to avoid this potential failure?
As a business coach for the last 20 years, I have heard a lot of responses to these questions. Perhaps some of them resonate with you:
- I didn’t push myself to network to bring in more business
- I procrastinated and allowed myself to get distracted
- I did a good job but didn’t manage the perceptions of others
- I lost sight of the big picture and got buried under piles of admin
- I didn’t budget properly
- I wasn’t organized and lacked efficient processes
These are fairly typical and understandable. But if you reflect further, you’ll probably discover that there are also concerns at a deeper level. Perhaps:
- poor decision-making under pressure
- reacting to emotional triggers
- a lack of confidence or fear of failure
- self-limiting beliefs about your capabilities
- bad habits
Of course, we are looking on the dark side, searching for flaws – but remember our purpose is not to make ourselves miserable but to identify obstacles to our success so that we can overcome them and transform weaknesses into strengths.
Every one of the obstacles mentioned above can be overcome.
The concern and anxiety that are generated by the pre-mortem approach can be converted into positive energy and provide the spark that ignites you and ensures that you begin to take the necessary action.
But fear of failure doesn’t create sustainable momentum; it doesn’t inspire and it doesn’t help you to become the best version of you. So, let’s take a moment to think about what your success will look like.
Imagining Business Success
Imagine in 3 years’ time, rather than holding your head in your hands, you are smiling, reflecting on how far you have come.
Of course, you have financial security; money is important – it pays for healthcare, education, a decent house, a better car than your irritating neighbour (if that’s important to you), vacations and rock’n’roll (have you seen the price of the tickets!).
But – and I’m sure you’re already ahead of me here – real success is measured by more than money. In your future vision, you:
- are doing work which you enjoy – kind of obvious and yet so many people are stuck in jobs they hate or are running businesses that feature more drudgery than fun
- have control over the way you do things – who you work with, the type of work, when and where you work
- make extraordinary things happen, refusing to accept mediocrity
- continue to develop and grow, relishing each new challenge
- know that what you do makes a difference in peoples’ lives
- are respected and appreciated for your achievements
Hold your vision of your future success in your mind and ask yourself:
what do I need to do to turn this vision into reality?
What did I do to achieve this business success that has brought financial abundance and a fulfilling life?