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COPING WITH FAILURE

Where Is Your Competitive Fire?

Use your business’s losses to inspire you to achieve great things.
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There was a time that we cared about being the best. There was a time that our competitive spirit ran deep. We could get beat down, such as when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, but we would come back stronger four years later to defeat the enemy.

Later, as we entered the space race, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to blast into outer space, and we were mad. But we turned that anger into purpose and we made sure we won the next race, the race to the moon.

In the 1980s Detroit auto sales plummeted. But a guy named Iacocca emerged with a challenge: "If you can find a better car, buy it." And his challenge worked. He built a better car. He knew we had been beaten, but not defeated.  And he helped turn an industry around.

Where are our Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Iacoccas today?

Today manufacturing is slowing. Our products say "Made in China" and we simply shrug it off. Need a highly skilled workforce? Try India.

What happened to being inspired by a setback? To being challenged by a loss? Why do we simply shrug off not being the best? Perhaps it now starts at childhood. Don't believe me? Just look around. Have you been to a child's sporting event in the last 10 years? They don't even keep score anymore. Why? Because they don't want the team that lost to feel bad.

The kids want to keep score. Heck, most of them do so on the field. It’s our generation that can't seem to handle it. So what are we doing? We are creating a society, a country no less, that downplays losing, the single most important inspiration to winning. And what do you get as a result: malaise when you lose throughout life.

As Vince Lombardi once famously quipped, "Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization…the object is to win." But what would Coach Lombardi say about us today?

I have personally won and lost in life and believe with all of my soul that you learn more from losing than from winning. What have I learned from losing? I've learned that I do not like it, not one bit. And every day I am motivated in everything that I do, not because I have to win but often because I know the taste of losing and it is a taste I do not enjoy.

But today we have been taught that losing is acceptable. Or we mask losing by not keeping score or simply joking about another countries’ capabilities over ours. Well, at the end of the day the joke is on us. As we lose our competitive spirit be prepared to lose even more over the coming generations if the trend is not reversed.

Have you ever heard the loser of a college national championship game say it was just fun to get in the game? No. Why? Because they get it. That's why they got to the game in the first place.

Would we have gotten to the moon had we not been afraid the soviets would get their first? No. What would the outcome of World War II have been if we simply said, "Oh well, we tried" and let Hitler have all of Europe and Africa?

Losing is never acceptable and we must do everything in our power to bring back a healthy dislike of the same. So how is this applicable to you?

In life as it is in business we must learn and gain inspiration from our missteps. Do not simply dismiss failure as happenstance. Do not simply shrug it off and move on. Use it to rekindle the competitive fire within you to work harder, be smarter, and figure out why you lost, and motivate yourself to make sure it never happens again.

So keep score. When you win, celebrate your accomplishments. When you lose, use the same as inspiration to work harder and smarter so that it does not happen again.

Last updated: May 2, 2012

MATTHEW SWYERS | Columnist | Founder, The Trademark Company

Matthew Swyers is the founder of The Trademark Company, a Web-based law firm specializing in protecting the trademark rights of small to medium-size businesses. The company is ranked No. 138 on the 2011 Inc. 500.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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