They don’t appear anywhere on my resume but some of my most important accomplishments are things that could have happened but didn’t. And if you read my professional bio or LinkedIn profile, my many failed experiments are nowhere to be seen. That’s really too bad because they represent some of my best work.
It turns out I’m pretty good at talking people out of things. On multiple occasions, at two different retailers, the CEO I worked for was hellbent on making a major acquisition. Through a lot of analysis, much hemming and hawing and some decent persuasion skills, my team and I ultimately convinced them to drop the deals. In more recent years, as a consultant, I’ve advised multiple private equity firms, hedge funds and corporations where my ultimate contribution was convincing them not to make an investment they were originally inclined to make. I’ve also been hired by clients to help them with how to make something happen and where I ultimately recommended they shutdown or completely pivot on their project. And thankfully they listened.
Of course it’s impossible to know for sure what would have happened had these initiatives moved forward. But I have no doubt that (conservatively) hundreds of millions of dollars in value was preserved while management was freed up to pursue far more productive avenues of growth. It’s not sexy–and it doesn’t make the CV– but stopping is often the very best thing we can do.
Having been in the strategy and innovation space for awhile I’ve also had numerous occasions to champion and/or execute projects of the “this might not work” variety. And guess what? Many didn’t. At least not remotely close to the way we had originally envisioned.
Some were small and contained–like, testing and learning our way through various marketing personalization experiments. Others were far bigger and bolder, like creating and opening entirely new store concepts.
A few of the misses where evident quickly and we were smart enough to fail quickly and recalibrate. Others took more time to reveal wisdom we could leverage. And, if I’m honest, some should have been put out of their (and our) misery sooner than we were willing to pull the trigger. But in virtually all cases our failures led us down a path of far greater learning and impact.
Power and value is not merely in the idea. Nor is it in working harder and harder in the hope of batting 100%.
And the willingness to try stuff is not appreciated nearly enough.