Learn Big By Failing Small
October 28, 2020
This is a memory of more than two and a half decades back. I was fresh out of college and was a sales intern at a leading IT Company. After about six odd months in the job, I was pretty confident with the product suite and comfortable dealing with clients independently.
However, whenever it came to creating specific proposals for big and established clients, I had a mental block. I would run everything past my supervisor, fearful of getting something wrong and making mistakes that could cost me the deal. Only after I got a green signal from him would I send the proposal to the clients.
In the initial months, my supervisor was more than happy to help me out and guide me. However, despite becoming comfortable and proficient, I continued to lean on him to prepare critical proposals to the marquee clients.
One day, my supervisor called me into his chambers and asked, ” Pramod, you seem to be comfortable with all aspects of the product. Why do you insist on running the proposals past me?”
This question surprised me. Till then, I had the impression that my boss was happy checking on what I was doing.
Choosing my words carefully, I responded, ” These are important proposals, and I am worried that I may make some mistake that could be costly. That is why I take your help.”
” So what you are saying is this. If you make a mistake, it is my job to catch the mistake. And, if for any reason, I am unable to catch the mistake, and the deal goes south, it becomes my responsibility because you ran the proposal past me?”, my supervisor countered.
I did not know how to respond. I kept mum. It was then that I got one of the early lessons about what responsibility and accountability means.
The message my boss gave me was something on these lines.
You don’t grow in the corporate world by being more obedient, following orders, and taking permission to do what is required. You grow by taking more responsibility for the things that can fail and learn from those mistakes. Taking responsibility means being comfortable with failing. If you run everything past me, it’s like you are taking the help of crutches to avoid falling and getting hurt. This approach won’t help you grow. Learn to be independent.
Learning and growth come from making mistakes. Just be careful not to commit “fatal mistakes” that put your job at risk. Any error that is not “fatal” is a small mistake worth learning from.
That lesson was powerful and has stayed with me since.
No one can ever be successful without failing. Improvement at anything comes from making lots of tiny failures and the magnitude of our success is based on how many times we have failed at something. The most successful people are the ones who have failed the most.
Grow in your life and career by failing small many times and learning big.