Hi to all my compatriots in a down market.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” A logical corollary to this would be to also define insanity as doing things differently and expecting the same results.
Much has been written about how we learn more from failure than success. But that doesn’t have to be the case. We have just as much to learn from our successes as from our failures. Each can inform our future course. As Chris Widener writes, “Learn from failure, confirm with success.”
Learning from what works may seem intuitively obvious. But it isn’t always. Take the crystal and ceramics company Waterford Wedgewood, which has been placed in what we in the U.S. call bankruptcy protection. In a recent Op-Ed article in The New York Times, Judith Flanders spells out how a company failed to learn from its own 250-year history of success:
“Today when most people think of Wedgwood, they think of bridal registries and those dusty-looking blue-and-white jasperware plates that no one knows what to do with. But things were once very different…
[In] 1765, Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, ordered a creamware tea set. For most people, that would be the pinnacle; for Josiah, it was the start. He now called himself ‘Potter to Her Majesty’ and renamed creamware ‘Queen?s Ware.’ In a letter to his business partner, he marveled at ‘how rapidly the use of it has spread’ and ‘how universally it is liked,’ and tried to balance how much this had to do with its royal ‘introduction’ versus ‘its utility and beauty.’
That is the true Wedgwood. It wasn’t pleasure at past achievement, but instead determination to understand why success had come about, so he could build on it. Selling was an intellectual pleasure, an art form.”
Danny starts his newsletter with a question a successful business owner recently asked him, “When do you know when your business has finally arrived?” The lesson we can learn from Josiah Wedgewood and the company he created is the answer to that question is, “Never.”
We have each taken certain steps to get to where we are. As Danny puts it, “The point is, remember what made you successful – all that work in the trenches. As success blesses your business, your most formidable enemies are not your competitors, but your ego and complacency.”
We must not let our egos rest on the laurels of past successes. We must not become complacent, abdicating our passions and letting someone else sit in the driver’s seat of our businesses and our lives. We cannot abandon the principles that got us to where we are and expect future success to just happen – not in our businesses, not with our children, not as a nation. Nor should we let ourselves wallow in the current global angst accompanying the downturn. Our greatness has always come from the fires of passion that fuel our engines and our unique individual gifts of vision for the future.
To quote Robert Louis Stevenson:
“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor.”
“If a man loves the labor of his trade, apart from any question of success or fame, the gods have called him.”
I for one am going to stop complaining about the downturn, start sitting in the driver’s seat again, and enjoy both the fruits of my labors and the simple joy of doing them.
See you on the road.
Julie Sue Auslander, M.Ed, WPO, WBE
President / Chief Cultural Officer