In business, two wrongs sometimes make a right

The old axiom “two wrongs don’t make a right” applies to most situations, but not necessarily in business. The reality is that few of us are perfect, even though some would like others to think so. Most times, it can take more than one attempt to get something right.

When executives and managers always get it right the first time, they probably aren’t taking enough chances to be better than average and reach stretch goals, innovate or do anything that is out of the norm.

A more applicable truism in business is the perennial “practice makes perfect.” Although it may be a bit of an exaggeration, many things tried more than once can ultimately nail the target. The key is to put enough time in a new endeavor to fine-tune and rejigger stubborn components of an undertaking that just won’t come together. Then, on the third or fourth attempt, that aha moment occurs when all the pieces fall into place.

Making mistakes in judgment by zigging instead of zagging can be painful — as well as costly — if not controlled to forestall big troubles. In good organizations that rarely occurs because of testing and verifying before going all-in and launching any significant program. As good carpenters and tailors mandate, “measure twice, cut once.”

The worst punishment for a good manager is self-recrimination when something doesn’t produce as planned. That’s OK to a certain extent because as it’s said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The architect of the misstep, however, can’t be allowed to wallow in failure. To continue to be effective, a producer who suffers a setback needs to sometimes be jolted to snap out of it and resume taking calculated steps forward until things begin to gel.

The biggest obstacle for executives’ continued success is if they become gun shy after deviating from their comfort zone following a shortfall. When heretofore bright stars begin to lose their twinkle and start lurking in the shadows to avoid the spotlight, it’s time for an intervention. The best method is a heart-to-heart with someone in authority who has also felt the agony of defeat, but reemerged to go on to bigger and better things within the organization. Left to fester, fear of failure can progress into chronic job paralysis.

Successful organizations foster an environment where judicious risk is valued and those who go where others have never gone before are rewarded. Inertia is a scourge to progress and almost guarantees mediocrity. Controlled stumbles and false starts when searching for that elusive improvement or differentiator is a small price to pay, compared with the ultimate damage from maintaining the status quo. There is a delicate balance between risking the ranch without testing a concept, versus rolling the dice when the odds of winning turn favorable. This empowers employees to explore without fear of condemnation.

Many a batter has hit a standing ovation home run to win the big game after resiliently enduring the first two strikes.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide.