Mistakes. Failures. Errors in judgment.
We all make them. I’m pretty sure it’s part of the human genetic code.
So, why am I focusing on them this week? They seem to be everywhere in the news right now.
In publishing, the topic of “successful failures” has been a big topic. In sports, it’s hard to avoid debates about Seattle Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman’s comments following the team’s defeat of the 49ers. In national news, my home state of New Jersey is wrapped up in “Bridgegate.” In international news, the world speculates on whether Sochi will be an Olympics disaster.
So, I guess it’s on my mind. I have a rule for my employees: Never make the same mistake twice. Instead, make new ones.
Am I encouraging them to make mistakes? Heavens, no. I’m an A-type OCD perfectionist. I hate mistakes. But as I said, humans make them. We can’t help it. And I, too, am human. Dammit.
But what I am encouraging is for them to not fear failure. Because you can’t ever succeed at something if a fear of failure stops you in your tracks.
Any successful businessperson can tell you that. I firmly believe that a business failure in one’s past is an asset. They’ve already failed. They’ve, hopefully, learned from that failure. And they’re stronger for it. They, again hopefully, won’t make that mistake again. They’ll make new ones. But the new mistakes will be far less devastating because of the lessons already learned.
I try to incorporate this lesson into my parenting, as well. The most important skill I can teach my daughter is to try: Succeed or fail, the important thing is not to give up before really giving it a go. For her, it’s things like counting, and dressing, and riding her tricycle. For us grownups, the stakes are often higher, but so is the importance of the lesson.
I have to remind myself of this often. I’m hardest on myself.
For example, when the first volume of Fiction River (Unnatural Worlds) came out, I discovered a typo in the front matter of the paperback version that drove me crazy. (And no, I’m not telling you what it is. Buy the book if you’re really curious <g>. And if you do find the one I’m talking about, let me know—I’ll send you a code for a free audiobook.)
But the book was already live, and to fix that mistake would have caused more problems that it would have solved. So, I left it. (Okay, in fairness, I had to hide my keyboard for a bit so I wouldn’t be tempted, but still, I won the battle.)
And that’s what business planning is, a constant cost/benefit analysis of what you’re doing. As a start-up, we have to constantly do that analysis. This amazing staff is doing the jobs of many more people—we just haven’t hired those people yet because we’re growing this business sustainably. It’s painful to do sometimes, but necessary for long-term success.
I was reminded the other day of a big-name publisher who put out about 250 new titles last year. They have a staff of 90. We put out about 100 titles last year. We had a staff, then, of five. You do the math.
So, we’ll keep growing and learning here, unafraid to try and adjusting from our missteps. Thanks so much for choosing to come along on our journey. I know one thing with absolute certainly: A business model that focuses on its customers (in our case, readers) is never a mistake.
Allyson Longueira is publisher of WMG Publishing. She is an award-winning writer, editor and designer.