So there I was, with my first order of shirts. It was the start of my new clothing line. Everything was ready to go; my website was up, inventory control was in place, and all I had to do was sell them. Naturally, all of my friends and family bought a shirt, and then reality smacked me right in the face, like a giant yellow school bus; I didn’t have any real customers! Countless hours put into a business plan, completing designs, emailing back and forth with mentors, and I simply “run out of customers.” Call it what you will, but I call it failing miserably. I failed so badly that I coined a new term: “über-failing.”
However, über-failing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. During my four years in the Marine Corps infantry, there was no such thing as failure. You simply pushed on until the mission was complete. Of the hundred of acronyms that they taught me in the Marines, one sticks out the most. It’s the “O.O.D.A. Loop” (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act…then do it all again).
This first step is critical because it lays the foundation for the rest of the process. In a combat situation, you observe the enemy. In a business situation, you observe why you über-failed. Was it a lack of customers? A flawed business model? Poor pricing? It could be a whole host of things, or it could be one thing. Be realistic about why you failed; don’t sugar coat it (that also means don’t ask your family and friends for their opinion, because they’re lying, even if they tell the truth). Regardless of the problem, figure out why you über-failed.
In a combat situation, this step helps you point your weapons in the right direction. Thankfully, the only weapon you need here is your creativity. Now that you’ve properly identified the problem, you orient your actions (i.e. daily schedule, to-do list, etc.) towards correcting the problem. If it was a lack of customers, then you might focus on creating some buzz about your product. If it’s not profitable, then rethink your pricing strategy. In the end, focus your attention not on the problem itself, but on the solution to the problem.
You’ve seen the enemy and know what they’re capable of. You’ve also got a good idea about where they’re coming from next; your weapons are ready to go. Now it’s time to make the tough calls. You know what the problem is, and you’ve got a couple of ideas about how to fix it; now it’s time to decide. Keep in mind, this decision can be tough, especially if it calls for you to scrap your entire business model, like I had to do. You may even need to redesign the product or service you offer. Pick a plan, and commit 110 percent to it; anything less, and you’re on the fast track to nowhere.
The first three steps are all talk; almost anyone can do them. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where that 110 percent commitment really comes into play; and often, this is when you literally have to put your money where your mouth is. Take the plunge, and execute your plan. It may not be perfect, but that’s not what you’re looking for. You’re looking to correct the problem that caused you to über-fail. Now is the time to take action; you’ve already done enough planning.
It’s not a perfect world, and neither are the plans we make as entrepreneurs. Thankfully, this last step not only allows you to repeat this process, it requires you to repeat it. This can be applied to an individual problem, and it can be applied to a much larger problem. It can be done on a napkin while you’re eating pancakes at IHOP at three in the morning, and it can be done on a whiteboard with the whole company in the meeting room. The key is to apply this process continually. Drastic changes may not always be necessary, but don’t be afraid to change things when it’s needed.
In the Marine Corps infantry, it’s mission accomplishment first, troop welfare second. The only reason they can sustain such a seemingly inhumane strategy like that is because of the “O.O.D.A. Loop.” I’m still “OODA-Looping” my problems away as I rebuild my company from the ground up. Remember, as an entrepreneur, “failure” is not an option; it’s a decision.
Philip Devine is a Marine Corps veteran, full-time college student, and enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter. He is also the founder-in-progress of Citizen of Heaven. Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org