Failure, The Necessary Evil for Success

We have all experienced failure, whether it’s failure to grow, to expand, to close a deal or just about anything. In essence, failure is nature’s thermometer which assesses your capability, performance and situation at a particular time and situation.

Think of it this way, if the outcome of a task or event is dependent on how much effort we put in then wouldn’t everyone or everything have the same consistent result? Even when everything is refined to its very core on a manufacturing process, you still get outputs which differ in the end results (although negligible, imperfections are still present). Your result is interdependent on so many factors, that either one of them could make or break whatever that you are trying to accomplish.

Failure is the fundamental result we receive at the end of the day, and it is a useful indicator for us to reflect and assess where or what went wrong. The usual school of thought here is that there is always something to learn from failure and adds to your experience, but what about the factors which are out of your control? This is where people usually just shrug things off but often this is where most valuable lessons are learnt.

Let me relate personally on this. It was an early time, not long ago when I started M.SaaS in year 2010, I was referred to participate in a large Singapore government agency CRM project tender due to Oracle’s previous experience on my work which I did for the Singapore Sports Council. Of course the team and I was delighted that such a big opportunity was presented to us instead of the more established players on the market.

Right off the onset, there were a couple of problems, our resources was inadequate for the scope of the project, we had no experience managing a project of this size, we did not have enough paid up capital to even meet the tender requirements for the financial deposit (which we eventually solved by forming a consortium with another partner).

Despite all the obstacles, we ploughed through all the demos, sleepless night of proposal preparations, arranging resources for the proposed timeline and countless meetings with the end-client. Throughout all this, I had a gut feeling that which I feared that perhaps we had taken on too big of a task for us to handle based our capabilities at that time (and of course some self-doubts on whether were we cut out for this job in the first place? Perhaps Oracle just passed it to us because no one else wanted to take it on? ). This feeling was further exaggerated when I knew deep down that the system integration effort required for the project would be a herculean task and it was definitely not in Oracle CRMOD’s strength (if I recalled correctly, there were nearly 10 different system to integrate to!)

I felt uneasy, I was worried, and there were nights which I just lie on the bed thinking of how we would be able to keep our promise on delivering the projects. The truth is we were probably ill-equipped for the project and the fact that the competition (Microsoft CRM) was the incumbent vendor did not help calm matters down.

After a period of procrastination, countless consultation with my partners and deep thoughts, I summoned the guts up to decline participating in the tender even though Oracle would have no presence in the tender anymore. Objections came from everyone, and naturally everyone was furious that we were backing out 2 weeks before the tender due date. I ate humble pie, apologized deeply and personally to everyone (including Maggie from Oracle who had been so supportive of us in the project bidding). I explained that we would not have the resources to take on the project and shared my gut feel opinion that the competition had both a technical edge and perhaps some relationship edge, in the tender.

Looking back now to that event, and after speaking to the customer who went with Microsoft CRM, it seems that I made a wise choice. My gut feel was right that anyhow they would have chosen Microsoft because of the preference of an on-premise model and they were indeed having a hard time performing those pesky integrations.

Failure at that point of time may be disappointing to all the stakeholders involved, but if we analyzed the reasons, we just weren’t well equipped at that time based on experience and resource availability. Definitely a far cry to what we possess today for our NetSuite business. The failure then was the universe’s message to us that more needs to be accomplished by us before we could reap the rewards. It was an indicator to improve upon our gaps, and it served as a fork in the road for us to decide, whether we would continue the same path that we have travelled (pursuing smaller deals) or make amendments to ourselves to prepare us for bigger deals in the future. Failure is simply a necessary evil to communicate to a business owner on what is lacking.

Just imagine if everything was smooth sailing in life, would we learn anything from it? Probably not.

If you look at the experience which I have just explained above,’ following the path of least resistance’ might just be the best advice that anyone can give. It must feel natural and we must be at ease when we are pursuing a specific goal. I’m sure you have felt uncomfortable or uneasy at times when doing something which you did not like or was unsure of; perhaps it’s just a sign that it’s simply not meant to be. Whatever you do, it MUST feel natural and comfortable to you.

While we may often confront failure with feelings of disappointment, despair and loss, perhaps we should embrace it as a necessary invention, life’s barometer of telling us that we are not ready at that time and specific situation, that there is much more to learn.

As Limp Bizkit’s song ‘I Know Why You Wanna Hate Me’ rightly puts it (for those of you not so familiar, it’s the soundtrack for Mission Impossible II), “You can take a ride through this life, but you can’t the edge out of the knife.”. Same thing applies for failures in life, just can’t take it out of the equation.


Failure, The Necessary Evil for Success

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