No pain, no gain

Problems and failures can be the foundation on which success is built

There’s a big difference between simply enduring pain and recognizing the possible cause and developing a solution. Many times, the upside economics of finding a permanent fix or major improvement can turn losses or meager successes into significant revenue and profit gains. Few companies launch a product or service and achieve instant unbridled success. Much like a fine wine, a good product improves with age as it’s painfully nurtured until it gains traction.

There can be a real upside to enhancing your product or service, provided there’s a significant market for its sustainable long-term profitability. A classic example of transforming a less-than-auspicious start into a raging success is the multipurpose lubricant WD-40 found today in virtually every household. The number 40 in this ubiquitous brand name represents the 40th attempt to make this product work as intended. That means there were 39 false starts that could have doomed this universal fluid tool to the scrap heap, never to reach the store shelf.

The adage, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” makes sense. Of course, there must always be economic constraints, and sometimes your first loss is your best loss. But, in most cases, if there’s a proven need, there is a solution. It may simply be a matter of how much pain and expense you can endure.

Glitches and false starts are part of the cost of doing business. On the other end of the spectrum, too many companies acquiesce and just live with product shortcomings rather than search for methods to revitalize and improve the widget to exceed customer expectations. Frequently, if something is working OK and producing minimally acceptable results, the problems inherent in the “product” become something to live with. This passive mindset leads to pervasive mediocrity.

Think of it this way: If you are producing a widget and production comes to a screeching halt because of a known flaw beyond the point of being ignored, it becomes a must-fix priority. Once the chronic problem is miraculously solved after pulling out all the stops, high-fives fly, and everyone is patting everyone else and themselves on the back. The unanswered question is: Where were these celebrants earlier?

Now think about how much money could be saved and, more importantly, made in almost every business when the time is taken to identify pain points on an ongoing basis as the product or service is being created and rolled out. Perhaps the problems are not yet an eight or nine on a scale of one to 10, but instead, are lesser issues. Nonetheless, these flaws reduce the product’s or service’s effectiveness to the point of acceptability, but never enabled the creation to reach the level of being very good or great.

Problems are typically disguised as opportunities. Recognizing a shortcoming is the first step in finding a better way, leading to vast improvement.

As they say in physical fitness: no pain, no gain. In business, sometimes it takes the pain from a negative event to grease the skids, preferably with a shot of WD-40, to unstick a perennial problem for the biggest gains.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide. Today, as founder/CEO of Max-Ventures, his firm invests in and consults for retail businesses.