An Open Letter On “Super Firm” Failure And Composure
Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real businesses, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Failure is a key part of success, or at least an important step on the road to becoming successful. When the still-young search industry witnesses a failure of any kind, it seems to revel in exploiting the collapse for personal gain, personal indulgence and the ability to say, “I told you so.”
Without getting into names and details that will only initiate more drama and, dare I say, schadenfreude, I’ve noticed an overabundance of loony behavior in the search business of late, mainly in the realm of how failure is depicted and exploited.
I have extensive experience in this arena — so, if you’ll indulge me, here’s my unsolicited advice on how to handle tough situations and what it takes to pick yourself (and those around you) up after falling.
Sour Grapes Sourcing
I check in from time to time on start-ups, particularly in the agency world, and I’m often called upon to offer advice to them. The life phase arch associated with launch, hype and the seemingly inevitable implosion has become so common, its cliché. Here’s how it goes:
- Company launch, lots of press releases, the “super firm” is born
- Big parties are thrown, lots of money spent
- Success is positioned throughout the business with sponsorships and speaking engagements
- A culture is born, young professionals are enthralled
- Information begins to leak on the demise, 15 minutes of disaster fame begins, and those not throwing rocks are “super concerned” about the people involved
The reason people seem to love jumping on the bashing bandwagon has more to do with the very natural human desire for revenge. By the time the “super firm” fails, industry colleagues have spent months or even years choking on countless nauseating press releases and blog posts about just how wonderful this company is and how they are doing it better than everyone else.
All Good Intentions
In the most recent editions of failure, how to not execute and ultimately, how to make a self-indulgent exit, I am reminded of James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson:
“Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ But let it be considered that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak of self-interest.’ (Wikiquote)
I’ve seen some real doozies in my time, but today’s socially enriched world, enhanced by deep indexing and no delete button search engines, makes any failure play out in public ways which were previously unimaginable. You have to hear about it on LinkedIn, Facebook and everywhere else — such is the way of the world, and you can’t change our broadcast-it-everywhere culture. But, what I’ve found particularly sad about it is how people choose to insert themselves into the conversation.
Please file the following under bad behavior:
- Blog posts offering to “help” underprivileged, suddenly underemployed people and track every available job acting as the personal placement specialist
- Inserting into a comment thread a description of how your competing company (based in Podunk, Idaho) really takes care of its people so if anyone wants a job from the failing company (based in Gnobot, Alaska), you should really reach out
- Taking the opportunity to insert yourself into a social discussion thread expressing your “concern” while casually mentioning the amazing work your company did for the failing company
Number 1 paints you as the concerned humanitarian. Number 2 is blatant self promotion and “man down kickage.” And number 3, well…number 3 is just sad display of desperate attention grabbing.
New generation “senior managers” should consider leaving the indulgent peanut gallery stuff behind. All the finger pointing and melodrama serves no one. The junior employees so eagerly recruited into the super firm are going to find jobs; it’s not hard to find digital marketing jobs. Seems to me if anyone was in the slightest bit actually worried about them, the last possible way I’d see of expressing concern is through self-indulgent blog posts whining about what could have been and how painful it is to leave.
I’ve looked over junior employee comments left to be judged on the social stage; it sounds to me that many of them believed the hype that was being spewed unto them. Will they be able to approach the next job with as much enthusiasm? Will you? How will you march into the next gig now, carrying the knowledge (and perhaps some of the financial debt) of how badly something like this can go wrong? Will you do it again? Will you be as driven to be successful?
Will you measure success by the number of press releases you write in a short a time? How about how many panels you spoke on at easily forgotten tradeshows? Will you spend some time trying to understand what went wrong, isolate it, then come back and give it another try?
Perhaps the next one (or the one after that) will go better. If you can power through your failures and learn from them without jading yourself to the point of hopelessness — if you can keep working at it until you get it right — then you may have something. Until then, cut the self-indulgent crap and get back to work.
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