Are You Preparing For Success, or Merely Protecting Against Failure?

Many writers and creative professionals aren’t prepared for success.

Instead, they spend their time attempting to mitigate the risk of failure. And while I fear failure as much as any normal person, my experience in studying successful people is that focusing on failure is not enough. You need to actively prepare for success.

I believe Tina Roth Eisenberg may have said it best, in one of her tweets this week:

“Overprepare, then go with the flow.”

There are two key parts to this:

  1. Doing the research necessary to truly over prepare. Most people feel they are “over prepared” when they aren’t. They have instead come up with a single idea for Plan A. That’s it. They love their idea, they are proud of it, and they really hope it works. But an idea is not a plan. A real Plan A should be multi-faceted, and involve others. It should be a system in and of itself, and there should be a Plan B, and Plan C, in place for when Plan A — in all likelihood — fails. Want proof of this? Search Kickstarter for campaigns that failed to get funded. Seriously, go look at all of the ideas that someone believed in, but failed to truly gain traction. It’s sobering.
  2. You will have to constantly iterate from what you THOUGHT would happen. In the past few years, the tech community has framed this with the term “pivot.” To do something different that doesn’t inherently reject the research and preparation you have already done. That is the ‘go with the flow’ portion, that what you thought Plan A would look like may turn out to be very different in reality.

To me, these are key distinctions between merely protecting against failure versus actively planning for success. Let’s take this theory into reality with three examples I have experienced in the past week:

Example 1: The Book Launch

As I mentioned above, I am preparing for the next session of my 4-week online course called Get Read, which helps connect authors to readers. As I review and update the course material, I am essentially meditating on the various aspects of launching a book and establishing a readership.

Oftentimes, the reality of a successful book launch is wildly different from what an author may have envisioned. They expect it to be a busy couple weeks around publication day. In studying authors who have had successful launches, and experiencing them myself, I find they actually begin 12 months before publication day.

All facets of the marketing timeline require clarity of messaging, clarity of audience, and trust with the people who can connect you to that audience. Let’s face it, clarity and trust take time.

What I find empowering about the idea of a 12-month long book launch is that it allows the author to slowly prepare at a reasonable pace, and it gives them time to iterate as needed. This goes directly back to the quote that Tina shared above: “Overprepare, then go with the flow.”

Example 2: Getting People to Back Your Vision

A few weeks back, I shared an inside look into Kickstarter, as my friend and client Sarah Towle runs her campaign for her StoryApp Tour.

Her campaign ends on June 26, and it is amazing to see how she has raised $32,510, which is more than 80% of her goal.

But let’s face it, in so many ways, Sarah has put her neck on the line. When the campaign is successfully funded, it will be easy to gloss over the incredible risk she has navigated in the past year to get to this point. The thousands of hours, the financial investment, the little failures that are masked by the big success.

Each of the 174 people that have backed her Kickstarter so far has a story about how they became aware of Sarah’s project, and felt an affinity for it. Each of those backers holds a key to unlocking Sarah’s vision.

Example 3: Teaching Entrepreneurship

This week I ran a workshop on entrepreneurship for 5th graders at PS 123 in Harlem. Here is a look:

PS 123

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Each student had to come up with an idea for a business they were going to establish, and create a business plan for it. These kids are awesome.

As we went through the workshop, I noticed some things these young students did that I see often when adults try to establish their own businesses or creative projects:

  • Fear of judgment in even speaking your idea out loud. Early in the session, after all of the students had written down their business idea, I asked for someone to share theirs with the group. One hand went up. When I called on the student to share, their head immediately went down. They no longer wanted to share. My interpretation: They wanted the pride of being first to show they were a leader, but then thought twice when judgment from the class came.
  • It’s easier to critique someone else’s idea than it is to develop your own. There was another student who had loads of charisma, but spent most of her time making clever jokes about her friend’s business idea. After 10 minutes, her own business plan was barely filled out. She had done very little to hone her own idea, because she was too busy poking holes in the ideas of someone around her.

Now, these are fifth graders who just came in from recess, and it’s a mere week before the end of school, so I am not trying to make more of this than I should. Both of the students I describe here are very smart and capable. They did great overall in the workshop, and it was a complete joy to see their approach and help guide them along the way.

But it reminded me of what I often see with adults: that it is easier to say why an idea won’t work than it is to develop the attitude, ideas, and process to ensure that it does.

I have seen people do this with other writers or creative professionals, but I mostly see people do this to themselves. They don’t give their own ideas a fighting chance. They have an idea, begin to consider the risks, and conclude that the idea isn’t worth pursuing.

They feel smart because they protected themselves from failure. The problem? Doing so didn’t really prepare them for success either. Instead, they are just stuck in the middle.

Do you see a distinction in how you prepare for success versus merely protect against failure? What works for you?