Failure Is The Key To Success
Failure Is The Key To Success
Three and one half years ago, I stepped down as managing partner of my law firm. At the time, I made a speech to the firm commemorating the day and offered my longtime partner and incoming managing partner, Terri Adler, a few words of battle-tested advice. Here is what I said:
Terri … I was going to give you some sage advice as I ended my words. And I had some pretty good advice figured out – things like being open to changing your mind based on other views – or how important it is to lead and not be a caretaker – or that you should read books and articles to increase your learning – or take the blame for what goes wrong – but I am sure that neither you nor anyone else will remember advice of that nature.
So instead – after some very deep reflection, I am instead going to give you the following suggestion:
I want you to fail.
I want you to screw things up.
I want you to try all sorts of crazy ideas.
And, as you do, I want you to know that sometimes – even often – you will mess up.
I want you to try to do some things that are kooky and nutso.
And, as you do so, I want you to realize that most of the time you will fail.
But sometimes you will lead the firm to a place it has never been before – a better place.
As you consider this, be mindful of the fact that just about everything that has made us great is trying something that seemed crazy at the beginning and worked our somehow!
Our hedgehog – our values – the build client businesses – our own media outlet – creating an internal mission of attract, train and retain – my writing for abovethelaw.com – firm clubs – the Pure Play in Real Estate strategy – a scotch wall in my office – real estate salons – and God knows how many other ideas.
All of these things the firm takes for granted now, but at the time they seemed pretty risky, scary or downright dumb.
And, many of the crazy ideas have failed. So many it would take hours to even go through them and remember them
As John Wooden – that famous basketball coach – says the team that makes the most mistakes is the team that is most likely the one that will win.
Or as Steve Jobs famously said:
Here’s to the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in square holes … the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things … because they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
So Terri – I urge you to not play it safe. Take risks. Be one of the crazy ones.
If you look back each year and see no big goofs, errors or failures, that should be a bell going off that you blew it. You didn’t take chances. You played it too safe. You were just a caretaker.
Before I get off this point, however, there is some advice to the firm. Don’t do what everyone does, which is when someone takes a chance – when someone fails – when someone blows it – say “I knew it.”
Instead bake Terri a cake, throw her a party, and thank her for taking the chance.
Imagine what would happen to our organization if not only the managing partner – but everyone – was encouraged to try and fail.
Imagine – instead of being a place where new ideas are discouraged – like everywhere else – we would consistently be pushing the edge of the envelope – on the frontline.
You know, I kind of think this is just about the best thing I could have said to Terri. She is a phenom in so many ways and I felt very good about my advice before passing the managing partner baton to her. What better advice could the retiring managing partner give?
I wrote an article on this very subject in 2015. Ultimately, the secret of my success has been my willingness to try and fail. Conquering my fear of making a fool of myself. Here is a link to that article, and I urge you to take a look at it as it forces you to consider if your firm is a place where failure is:
Ruinous to your career
If it is the latter, it is indeed a wonderful place you are working at, and one in which the future betides good things. And if it is the former, good luck and get out as soon as you can.
For the law firm of the future there is nothing that it can do better than be a place where everyone accepts the principle that there is not going to be amazing success without a trail of failures along the way.
So I will give the law firm of the future the same advice; namely:
Bruce Stachenfeld is the chairman of Duval & Stachenfeld LLP, an approximately 50-lawyer law firm based in midtown Manhattan. The firm is known as “The Pure Play in Real Estate Law” because all of its practice areas are focused around real estate. With almost 50 full-time real estate lawyers, the firm is one of the largest real estate law practices in New York City. You can contact Bruce by email at email@example.com. Bruce also writes The Real Estate PhilosopherTM, which contains applications of Bruce’s eclectic, insightful, and outside-the-box thinking to the real estate world. If you would like to read previous articles or subscribe, please click here.