I’ve lost a few pursuits recently. My college English adviser used to tell me to write about things I know. This month I know about losing, and I’m not afraid to admit that.
I try to learn from my losses. For me, learning involves writing about each loss and assigning my own interpretation for why we didn’t win — answering the question, what could I or my team have done differently to produce a different result? The problem with this approach is that oftentimes you don’t know why you lost. Sometimes prospects will provide feedback, but other times they prefer not to.
When reflecting on my recent losses, I came to realize two extremely important and arguably life-changing things — 1) winning and losing is entirely outside of my control, and 2), I am clueless. For example, I wrote a list of reasons for why I believed we lost a recent pitch. The day after I wrote down my thoughts, Mike and I called the CEO of the company to ask what contributed to his decision. He explained that a former employee of his firm, whom he deeply trusts, is now at another firm and that company had recently hired a competitor of ours and had a good experience. Despite meeting with us and seemingly giving us the opportunity to pitch, this connection was the deciding factor in his hiring decision and something we could not have overcame — even if we went in there like Leonardo DiCaprio & Lebron James and presented as good as Leo’s acting in The Revenant and LeBron’s 2016 NBA finals performance. All that I had previously written — “we could have answered the conflict question better,” “we could have brought different materials,” — was not the reason we lost.
In the book Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, there’s an awesome quote by Peter Thiel (founder of PayPal, Palantir and billionaire investor,) about this. In response to the question, how important is failure in business, Thiel says,
“I think failure is massively overrated. Most businesses fail for more than one reason. So when a business fails, you often don’t learn anything at all because the failure was overdetermined. You will think it failed for Reason 1, but it failed for Reasons 1 through 5. And so the next business you start will fail for Reason 2, and then for 3 and so on.”
I’m 26. At my age, you sometimes hear people say “you’re supposed to lose when you’re young.” I don’t buy that; my goal is to win all the time. However, I recognize that losing is inevitable and will happen throughout my career; this is because, as exemplified before, there are factors I cannot control that will ultimately result in me losing various pursuits. Since I cannot force someone to hire me (or at least I cannot think of any legal ways to do that), I will do my best not to worry about winning or losing. Instead, I will focus my attention on what I can control — and that is preparation.
The central theme from my notes on losing — and now what I realize is the antidote to losing — is total preparation. Like going to a meeting in the Plaza District but bringing notes on Downtown just in case the question comes up. Or when touring, bringing a separate book that shows all of your previously presented alternatives in case the CEO decides to join the tour and asks what else has been presented. It sounds easy but it’s not. Being prepared is a skill that is cultivated through strategic thinking and requires resources to implement (i.e. time to produce the materials, people to make various arrangements, etc.).
Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, has said (well, tweeted), “My goal is not to fail fast. My goal is to succeed over the long run. They are not the same thing.” As a young real estate broker, I agree, and to expand on this, recognize that succeeding over the long run in real estate brokerage (or anything for that matter) results from total preparation, day in and day out, for every opportunity.