Want To Improve Your Odds Of Success? Take More Shots.


One contributor to ultimate success is the willingness to adopt failure as part of the process.

Over the past few weeks I’ve written a few times (and released a podcast episode) about the value of unnecessary creation. It’s important to have a means of making things that isn’t tied to your “day job” or engaged in “on demand”.

One of the reasons that this kind of practice is valuable is that it allows you to make more attempts at creating something you’ll be proud of. If you put everything into one project, one book, or one concept, it may be successful, but if it isn’t then you have to start over. However, if you are consistently putting effort into a portfolio of activities then you are increasing the chances that you’ll stumble onto something that could be truly valuable. Once you do, of course, you can pour yourself fully into that idea until it’s proven or shown to be a dead end. However, this will be with the added context of having tried and failed at a lot of other projects as well.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past week because I’ve been pulled into the media narrative surrounding the NBA Finals. The question, as positioned by the media coverage, is “can LeBron James carry Cleveland all the way to an NBA championship on his back?” The headlines read “James scores 44 points to lead his team to victory” or “James sets NBA Finals scoring record” for the first three games of the series. What these headlines don’t reveal is that James is taking the majority of his team’s shots, and making less than 40% of them. This is markedly lower than his normal efficiency on the court. Still, in the midst of the inefficiency, there has been unbelievable brilliance.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
– Michael Jordan

The analogy doesn’t overlap perfectly, but consider how many “shots” you are taking in your life. How often are you putting work into the world? How many kinds of activity are in your portfolio of risk?

– Have a few projects in your life that you’re working on purely out of passion or curiosity.

– As a team leader, encourage people to explore ideas that could be a “moon shot”, but could also provide unimaginable value to the organization long-term.

– Refuse to settle for the first idea, even if it’s acceptable. Keep pushing until you are a little scared of where you landed.

– Refuse to allow fear of failure to limit your perspective. If you want to do good work, you will fail. If you’re not failing occasionally, you’re probably not stretching yourself.

Winning is often a game of percentages. Practice and hone your skills through unnecessary creation, follow your instincts for opportunity, and don’t be afraid to take shots and miss.



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