Failure is a way of life for many people. They try hard to succeed. But for some reason they never do.
Is their problem one of execution, of planning, of expectation, of personality or timing? Or is it a combination of all of them?
I’ve thought a lot about this over the years. In addition to the above, other factors play into what constitutes success.
There is the question of focus, of application of talent to real needs, of competence in performance, of commitment for preparation and for follow-through. Then there is the question of self-confidence.
See, all those conditions factor into success and failure. Yet, all those could be at the top-of-their-game, and still, success eludes us. The question is whether our conception of success is sufficient for the world we live in. I am increasingly convinced that we must look more deeply into these factors in order to define impact as the measure of success.
Reframing our understanding of problems
Each of these factors can be reframed as problems to solve. They were part of my own thinking a year ago as I was seeking to understand the anemic reception of my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change. I saw it coming three months before the book was to be released. The number of people showing interest was not growing. Then the day of release came and went. The question was no longer why did the launch fail, but what do I do now. Some people advise me to quit. Others sympathized but had no answers.
I believe it was Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over again expecting a different result.
It wasn’t whether I would do the same thing again. It was first a question of understanding what I had done, and why it failed.
What did I do? I did whatever one else did. I trusted the experts. I followed the rules of the game. Just like in all the books I had read directed to me to do.
In the end, it was clear that the book launch was never going to work because I was asking two different groups of people to step outside of their normal expectations to see something new.
Experts didn’t understand. And the potential audience wasn’t in a position to understand either.
That reality has not changed. Experts are often wrong. Potential customers don’t know what they don’t know so that they can know what answers to look for.
How To See A Different Picture
How did I gain a different perspective? I turned to my Circle of Impact model to assess my situation. I looked at my situation over and over again. First trying to understand why, and second, to know what I should do about it.
The traditional approach to marketing is a proven structure that works when you are working within a traditional approach. For a book, this meant marketing to a person who is defined by their title within an organizational structure. This is how I picture this kind of marketing.
It is of a person with something to sell, sitting in front of their computer, posting Tweets, blog posts, articles on LinkedIn or Medium, and comments on Facebook. They are investing in targeted ads through social media. They attend business fairs and occasionally speak to industry groups. This approach attracts people who already know what they need and are looking for additional information or support to move them forward. In this sense, they have an already developed market who is conditioned to listen to people who are speaking about the things they already know.
The problem is that my book and my work have never been this narrowly defined. It is a groundbreaking book on leadership, change and the future of the world.
Yet, we approached the marketing of the book as if it was a traditional book on leadership and personal development. Content was developed and distributed weekly through traditional communication vehicles to little effect.
To understand what I saw as I assessed my situation look at this image of the model.
The assessment goes like this:
We had spent all our time producing content (Ideas) delivered online through social media (Structure). The formation of an audience (Relationships) never happened. No one was anticipating the publication of the book. The assumption that I had an audience was proven wrong.
The question you might then ask is “Who is the book for?”
Throughout the process of writing the book, it became clear that I was writing for people and organizations that are in a very specific state of development. They are people who recognize that they are in transition or their business is in transition. This idea of transition is not the same as dealing with change, which is more like an interruption. Transition is a kind of fundamental change that takes us someplace we’ve never been, and from which we’ll not return. Transition is a journey into a new land.
The Pivotal Decision
The decision that I made as a result of my review of what happens is to begin to establish direct relationships with people. I had had the idea six months before the book was launched but was talked out of a road-trip tour not workable. They were wrong. I traveled around the US for ten months, visiting people and places in eighteen states. Everywhere I went the conversations about transition were the same. People knew on an emotional level that they were in transition, but had no words to describe it.
The audience for the book grew one person at a time. Day after day, week after week, month following month, new insights came to me through these conversations. It became apparent that the value of the book will grow over time. It requires a change of perspective to see how the Circle of Impact can matter.
Now fifteen months after the book was published, sales are getting closer to the original expectations for the launch of the book. I’m pleased because by creating direct relationships with people I’m certain that they will actually read the book.
Turning Failure Into Impact
The singular question that a person must ask when they are faced with failure is what is the impact that they wanted to achieve. For me, traditional marketing approaches base success on how many books are sold. Now, the book purchase is not the end of the sale, but a transition from introduction to encounter to transformation. The book is a souvenir of the encounter that they have with me. It is personal and transformational.
However, for transformation to be sustainable, it requires not just a relationship based on ideas, but a structure for incorporating those ideas into the on-going social life of an organization or a community. This is why it is important for organizations to incorporate the Circle of Impact into their life.
The key though is the relationship. Without a relationship, the book is just another commodity in a world of commodities.
In October, all the dimensions of the Circle of Impact came together to create an opportunity for Impact that is beyond anything that I have experienced. At a conference in Thailand, I had a five-minute conversation with a guy named Isaac Ruto from Kenya. I gave him the card describing the Circle of Impact that I give to people. Within two weeks, he had invited me to come to Kenya to spend a week training a group of local community development coordinators from eight African countries with who he had been working. This first experience will lead to others as together we combine our efforts to strengthen local communities throughout the African continent.
Without a commitment to build direct relationships of respect, trust, and mutual service, I would have never had my own perception of the Circle of Impact change. I see things today that could only come from the people that I’ve met over the past year and a half.
In order to fully understand what this lesson means these five principles capture the scope of insight of the book.
ALL leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact.
We are ALL in transition. Everyone of us, all the time.
The greatest change we experience is in our self understanding.
In taking personal initiative, start small, then grow big.
Act locally, then tell your story globally.
With this post, I begin a new series on transition.
As the transition from 2019 to 2020 takes place, may you learn to see the transitions that you are in, and find your path through them to impact.