The second stage of a four-stage business life-cycle is the blunder stage. This stage is marked with flashes of brilliance among a sea of blunders, much like one will find in adolescence. In this stage, the wonder of the early stages of the business has worn off and actual executable plans find mixed results of successes and failures.
The challenge here is to not make mistakes serious enough to kill the business and also, to not get so discouraged that the business owner gives up. Endurance and persistence are keys for a business to get through this stage.
Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Clearly these words must have rung in the ears of Englishmen while they endured some of the darkest days of WWII. Churchill also realized that the journey is more important than success or failure when he said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
The business leaders in this stage should remember the early wonder years of the company. Why did you get into business to begin with? What opportunities were you hoping to capture? What was your business plan? When you are in the thick of long work days, unending deadlines and a string of mistakes, it is easy to call it quits. That is why it is important to review the vision and mission of the firm and relive why you started.
Not only is it helpful to remember the wonder years, it is helpful to look forward to the future to the next business stage, the thunder years. These are the times when the company really becomes profitable and effective in its mission. The mistaken laden times the business owner is in now will eventually pass. Failure is not fatal, it is important to learn to fail forward.
Some of the most successful businesses came from failing forward. Henry Ford went bankrupt seven times before he landed on the Model T. Dave Anderson bounced from job to job and city to city as a travelling salesman. When he failed at that business, he opened up Famous Dave’s BBQ, his real love and passion, and became a millionaire. Fred Astaire had his first rejection letter hung above his fireplace. The director who turned him down for a part said he could not act, was a bad singer and was even worse as a dancer. Astaire went on to become a household name with his dancing and acting with Ginger Rogers.
Flexibility and wisdom are important in this stage. Leaders need to be flexible enough to change direction, abandon a product, or revise a strategy when necessary. But they also need the wisdom and insight necessary to know when to stay the course and push through the failures, knowing they are on the right path.
Unfortunately, some businesses never move out of this stage, just like some people never seem to grow up. But for the ones that push through, the glory years are just ahead.