Young children are not afraid to fail. Watch any small toddler learning to walk – they crash, they fall, and often it looks pretty painful. However, the pace at which they improve is mind boggling as they are always pushing the envelope and pretty soon they are skipping and dancing.
As we get older we often continue to learn these lessons from sports. For 11 years I was dedicated to racing sailboats. I sailed all over the US from Maine to Hawaii, Miami to Chicago and most places in between.  In dinghy sailing (small 14-15 foot boats) if you are not capsizing regularly in practice, you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough. You need to fail regularly to learn just where the limits are and always be pushing. You will never be good if you aren’t afraid to fail, not just afraid but regularly go too far, to be really good.
As we grow older and the stakes get higher, most people grow more cautious. The daredevil skier takes less chances to avoid an ACL injury, the ambitious app developer settles into a more stable corporate IT career, the bright young talent settles into a comfortable middle management job.
However, I think we can all learn to take more chances at any age and under any circumstance. When it comes to dating, there’s no doubt that people have become more adventurous. Our culture is inundated with references to apps such as Tinder and TV programs such as First Dates remind us that first dates happen at all ages to all types of people. But at its core, dating and finding a partner is probably one of the most important decisions there is in life. If adults can accept using more technology to take more chances whilst openly accepting the risk of failure in their personal life, why does it seem so much harder professionally?
There are likely a few reasons people fear failure and avoid taking chances professionally, so I’ve included a few thoughts on how to combat those and be more adventurous:
  • We lose our drive to succeed

When it comes to sports, the goal is clear, to win. No one embarks on a blind date looking for a disastrous story or a free dinner. Most people date hoping to find someone not ordinary, someone they really like. When it comes to a career, many people settle into coasting mode. Professional ambition melts into a rote annual review process with many doing just enough to get a ‘good’ rating. I dare say most people don’t begin a career wanting to be ‘good enough.’ Why did you go into your profession? Did you want to be better then others you had seen? Did you want to teach people to work smarter and not harder? Channel that drive and use it to push you forward. You may not always win, but its clear that having a personal goal and striving to reach it has a massive effect on your ability to take chances.

  • We stop learning

As children we are always expanding our skill set. Whether it be learning to walk, becoming skilled at a sport, expanding our vocabulary, excelling in studies or quickly adapting to new technology. Ever had a problem with your iPhone? Ask a 12 year old.

Taking chances is less scary when you realise you are not alone and innovating at your company doesn’t always mean creating something from the ground up, it can be bringing proven best practices to your organisation. Spending time to network with peers, learn from vendors, and listen to industry analysts is extremely important.

A good example for how sales have changed is to think about the process for buying a car in 1960 versus now. In 1960 you might have walked into a Chevy dealership and asked for a test drive and a salesman would extol the benefits of the model you were eyeing.  Buyers now are influenced by various advertising media, reviews, and comparison sites.

“67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” (SiriusDecisions)

Therefore the majority of the sales cycle happens before they even set foot in a dealership. This trend is happening across B2C and B2B organisations. Buyers are smarter, so sales organisations have to be smarter too. To support this increasingly dynamic environment, it’s critical that sales operations is always learning so they are equipped to best support their sales organisation.

  •  We take false comfort in consistency

Change is hard. Often things ‘work’ and people think, why mess with them? However, if you are not innovating, I can assure you that your competitors are. I’ve noted how buyers are getting more savvy and changing their behaviours as well.

“57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier.” (CEB)

It’s important that sales operations professionals have an open mind to change and able to bring sales on that innovation journey. Once we accept that change is a constant, it’s easy to be more adventurous. Trying something new, we must accept that it may fail. And that’s ok, because its better then trying nothing at all because its a guarantee that the world is ever changing around us.

Embracing failure can be a powerful motivator. It is clear when you look at small children or exploring musicians trying a new piece of music or sportsmen honing their craft that failure is clearly a necessary part of improving. Long held practices around dating can be challenged and changed, even later in life. With the same attitude to accept failure professionally more innovation becomes possible. Consider in your life what you accept a margin of failure around and try to bring that attitude to your career, and I suspect your progression will leap frog. Why crawl when you can run?

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