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As I See It

Don’t dwell on failure when outcome isn’t perfect

A new year is well underway, and we’re off to a new start. Many of us have resolved that we’ll live better, work harder and be healthier during in 2006. I am a firm believer in the power of goals and strategies in both our businesses and our personal lives.

Some people treat resolutions, if they make any, casually and they’re totally forgotten be mid-January. Others take their goal-setting very seriously and make real efforts to achieve what they have decided to do. They visualize the future and how their plans will accomplish the desires of their heart. What do we do when our strategies don’t produce the desired fruit?

Many Mississippi deer hunters are faced with a lousy hunting season this year — through no fault of their own. I am a member of that group.

At my camp, we were late in planting the food plots because Katrina put trees down across our roads and trails. Once we got the trees cut away and the crop in the ground, the drought began and denied us rain for more than 40 days. To add to our woes we had no acorns this year — either a bad crop year or Katrina blew them off the trees. Then, the weather warmed to the point that the mosquitoes came out in force. Is it too late to take up golf?

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this situation trying to learn something from the experience. Could it be that we didn’t know what we were doing and the lousy food plots were our fault? No, that’s not the problem. Normally, our food plots are considered among the best in the state. This year we planted using the same people, the same equipment and the same farming techniques as in prior years. No, we know what we’re doing and we did a good job. The fault is not with us.

Once it became apparent that the crop was not coming up, we went the extra step of planting an additional 2,000 pounds of wheat seed the weekend after Thanksgiving. At that point, I had done all that I could do. It was then up to Nature and Nature decreed that our efforts would fail.

This was not the first time my schemes and strategies have failed. About 10 years ago I was running a manufacturing operation in Mexico. We had about 500 employees working with three customers. We were growing the business at a dizzying pace and were starting to make a little money. With NAFTA about to be passed, we were on our way. If ever a person was at the right place at the right time I thought it was me.

Then, one customer announced that they were going to move the operation to China and take their 250 jobs with them. Losing half of one’s business creates a strategic challenge. Nonetheless, I worked out a downsizing plan that I strongly believed would save the company from shutting down. I invested countless hours in overhead analysis, pricing adjustments and a revised management structure. I had a plan.

Our managing partner was coming down to talk about the situation and I was ready. At least I thought I was ready. Rather than embrace my plan as the epitome of brilliance that I believed it to be he announced that he was shutting down the Mexican operation.

Oh, and I was fired, too.

I moved from strategic planning czar to unemployed in one brief conversation. No gold watch, not even a t-shirt.

As with the food plots, was my planning and strategizing faulty? Did I fail to follow the plans? Was there some major problem or issue that I could have addressed in a different way? Did the customer decide to leave on my account? I really don’t think so. As with the food plots, I followed carefully devised plans and they simply didn’t work out. So what does that mean?

Though my plans didn’t work I am not a failure. I can’t control anything in the world but my actions and me. And, if I’ve really done the best that I can do and things still don’t work out, I’m still a success in my eyes. Success is the effort and not the result. With this philosophy you can always be successful by merely doing your best. This is true whether you are planting food plots or running manufacturing companies.

Have these negative experiences dampened my enthusiasm for the power of planning? Not in the least. Though I have shared two situations where my strategies didn’t work, I could share a lot more times when they did. Accepting the reality that everything won’t always work out, even if we do our best, is an important element of leadership and it’s a fact of life that I accept. My good times have been better than my bad times have been bad.

Thought for the Moment

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. — P.J. O’Rourke

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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