On Miles Davis, Failure, and Orgiastic Futures
I’ve read several times that Miles Davis told his many bands that, if they weren’t making mistakes, they weren’t trying hard enough.
Looking back at Q1, I think it’s pretty clear that I was trying pretty hard. We had a number of big fails. What failed? Two scuttle deals come to mind, and each came from a different end of the spectrum. I should probably explain that a significant portion of our work is contingency-based recruiting. This means that our “selling” comes in two forms. One is getting a recruiting contract signed, meaning that we’re gaining a client’s commitment to pay us should we successfully generate a hire for an open position. The second is working the opening; finding the candidates, vetting them, working them through the hiring process, extending offers, and gaining commitments from the candidates to accept the jobs. (Then we get paid!)
So, as I said, the two failures come at different points of our sales cycle, the first was in the contract-winning stage and the second was in the making-the-hire stage. Both of the deals highlight the importance of engaging everyone always.
In deal #1, I had an audience with and verbal commitment from one of the company’s investors who is also a board member. Done deal right? Three days later I learned that we had lost the deal. I wallowed in sorrow for about 24 hours (Thanks for letting me whine, Brett!) and started mapping out the deal so I could see where I had gone wrong. As I wrote down the names of everyone who had been involved, it became very clear how many holes there were in my strategy. There were people involved, even people outside of my client’s company, who were in positions to influence the outcome. Lesson #1: Selling high isn’t enough.
Failure #2 offers a similar lesson, but from the opposite end of the spectrum. In this deal, we negotiated the contract with the CEO and worked on 5 different searches. As the interviews progressed and we positioned to extend offers, we received word that the board had asked the CEO to retrench and postpone the hires for another quarter. In this instance, we hadn’t sold high enough. “What if” isn’t necessarily a productive exercise. “What did” can be very productive.
And so we beat on, boats against the current…
I’m being facetious there. Our green lights are real and achievable. Perfection never is, but we’re happy to keep learning and improving in its pursuit.