Success from Failure

We're continuing our series on improving law office profitability. Today we're looking at the psychology of failure and its relationship to success. Heady sounding stuff, I know, but worthwhile thinking about.

First, a definition or two.

Failure isn't always failure. Sometimes it's just not having as much success as one thought would occur. In marketing your law practice, it's often hard to tell what approach is going to work best. And when it doesn't bear fruit quickly (after all, humans are getting to be a very iimpatient specie), we tend to view the effort as a failure and move on to the next marketing idea. Maybe that's a mistake.

It could be that the "fruit" of that marketing effort just takes more time than we'd like and what we are really looking for is a quicker result. It could also be that it wasn't a failure at all, we just didn't see the success we expected.

There's a great article on this idea of making success out of screw-ups and it just came out. It's in the January 2010 online issue of Wired magazine and, although it's pretty long and filled with lots of neuroscientific stuff. Still, it's worth the time to read all the way to the end. It's here at this link and it's called "Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up."

It examines how scientists conduct experiments and come up with what at first glance seems to be a failure, a strange result, one that doesn't make any sense at all in view of what they thought would be the result.

That sometimes happens to lawyers too. And not just in their marketing efforts. The point is, however, that the unexpected result may not be a screw up at all. Sometimes there is much more to it than that. And sometimes you have to think outside of the box to see what the result really is.

And that can mean that maybe you should have been thinking outside of the box in the first place, in order to get the result you were after. So, when your next advertising idea comes up, your next marketing thought, take it outside of the box first, before you implement it, and see what it looks like in a different light.

Wierd advertising can work. Unusual marketing ideas can sometimes bear that "fruit" faster and better than the conventional approach to just running more ads on television or radio or in the paper.

As an example of using non-traditional approaches to marketing, there's a personal injury law firm in Ohio that sponsors a county fair (I don't even know how you get to do that), whose lawyers put in time at the local food bank, and whose partners cook at the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner put on by a long-standing charity. The have their usual "lawyer ads" too, but those extra efforts put the firm's name and its lawyers' faces out there in the public constantly too. That's smart marketing.

So the next time you question whether or not the result of your marketing was what you planned for or expected, try to ignore the reactionary thought and question the result more thoughtfully, Maybe the result was not a failure at all. Maybe it was just a different kind of success.

So, maybe you should accept defeat and look at the neuroscience of screwing up as an opportunity to find the success that exists in the screw up. It's probably there someplace.

Ron Burdge
Helping lawyers find success since 1978.