What Happens When You Can’t Lose

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about two words:  “process” and “experiment.”  Not just thinking about, but seeing them in a new way that has dramatically reframed how I’m viewing challenges and setbacks.

Two examples, one professional and one personal…

I was recently asked to create a pitch for producing a video to be shot in Uganda.  It was a last-minute project with a lot of variables, but I wanted to fully explore the options to see if it could be a fit.  As I sat there in the wee hours of the morning, refining what was increasingly feeling like a long shot, it occurred to me, ‘You’re taking a big risk here.  All this time and effort – resources that could otherwise be put toward other projects – might end up being for nothing and then what?  It’s all wasted.’

But then it struck me: that’s not true.  At all.  Because there are two ways of viewing this experience.  One, as a project.

When viewed just as a project, it’s completely binary – ‘win or lose’.  And in this case, it was ‘lose’; the project wasn’t a fit and in the end, I had to pass.  But there’s another way to see it: as a process.  When seen as a chance to refine an ongoing process, it’s a win.  To put this pitch together, I used a cool online proposal form that lets you create great decks in less time.  I also learned about new resources for accessing crews in foreign countries.  And much of the copy I put together is evergreen; ‘About Matthew Porter’, ‘My Approach’, etc… that can all be used again.  This ‘failed’ pitch gave me the chance to find new and better ways to get proposals done and much of the work invested will be applied against future projects.

Second example…

I’ve been trying a new eating plan for the last several months with some remarkable success.  But then sometimes, the weight loss plateaus or even stops and I move backwards, sometimes with no obvious cause.  Frustrating, discouraging, maddenin— wait, no it’s not.  Because I’ve chosen to see this whole effort – this process – as an experiment.  So, I get an unexpected result.  Great.  Either it’s some kind of mysterious dark magic in play or there’s some antecedent cause that I need to uncover.  I figure it out, apply that learning, and keep pressing forward.  Fail, learn, move on.  And sometimes I’ve even broken the thing on purpose, e.g. what would happen if I depart from the plan, eat more of this and none of that?  When the weight stays or creeps back, yeah, I’m bummed as I shoot my death stare at the scale, willing it to roll back those digits.  But beyond this fleeting moment of pre-dawn disappointment, I’m realizing each development, positive or negative, reveals just a little more of the picture.  Because my eating plan, the video pitch, everything is not just an opportunity unto itself, but part of a much larger ongoing process.  And with each challenge I square up against, in addition to it being a chance to win, I’m getting a window into things I need to learn, unlearn, or relearn.

As I read these words I’ve written, nothing here seems radical, revolutionary, or even remarkable.  And yet, these simple ideas have reshaped my perspective in a significant way.  When viewed through the lenses of “process” and “experiment”, we can swing harder and more often, give more, sacrifice more, and risk more knowing that no effort is never totally wasted.

You can’t lose.

– Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter writes about decoding success, creative leadership, marketing, and productivity.

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