Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lessons from IBM, Microsoft and KFC

There are a few things not included in the bio on my website that I would like to share with you. I have never lost a marathon. I have never had an unprofitable day in the restaurant business. I have never been cut from a basketball team in college or professionally. I have never lost a chess tournament or national spelling bee, and I have never lost an election running for public office.

This all may sound quite impressive until you realize that I have never failed at any of the above mentioned tasks because I have never attempted them. Success and accomplishment are not defined by a lack of failure. Failure is a part of life and learning. Even the greatest baseball players in the world fail more than they succeed. They fail to get a hit 7 times for every 3 times they do get one. Does a baseball player think about quitting the game every time he gets out? Is he afraid to go to bat because he might fail? No. He knows he will probably fail 7 out of the 10 times he goes to the plate. He knows that failing is a part of the game. We, too, must learn that failure is part of the game of life. Babe Ruth holds the record for the most strikeouts, but he is considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time because of the home runs he hit. He struck out 1,330 times and hit 714 home runs during his career.

Tom Watson, Sr., IBM’s founder, called into his office an executive whose mistake had lost the company $10 million. The nervous executive entered the office and said, “I guess you want my resignation?” Watson replied, “You can’t be serious. We’ve just spent $10 million educating you!” (Warren G. Bennis, Burt Nanus, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, (New York: HarperCollins, 2003) p. 70) We must come to view mistakes not as failure but as learning. Some seek to eliminate the chance for failure and by default eliminate the possibility of success. “Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, has said, ‘I like to hire people who have made mistakes. It shows that they take risks.’” (Michael Pearn, Chris Mulrooney, and Tim Payne, Ending the Blame Culture, (Brookfield, VT, Gower Publishing, 1998) p. 11–12)

Persistence and a Chicken Recipe
In the early 1950s, Colonel Harland Sanders was forced to sell his restaurant as a result of an interstate highway which bypassed Corbin, Kentucky and reduced the number of customers who came to his restaurant. Age 65, Colonel Sanders was reduced to living on his Social Security check of $105 per month ($791 per month in 2006 dollars).

While running his restaurant, he had perfected a recipe and cooking technique for fried chicken. Confident of the quality of his fried chicken, he decided to try and sell his recipe and cooking techniques. He drove all across the country from restaurant to restaurant cooking batches of chicken for restaurant owners and their employees. He was rejected 1009 times before he found someone willing to purchase his recipe. (Anthony Robbins, Unlimited Power, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986) p. 14) When we experience defeat and rejection, the easiest and most logical thing to do is to quit, but the successful have learned to persist. Colonel Sanders didn’t quit after 10 or 20 rejections but persisted through hundreds of rejections until he got a yes.

After his first yes, his franchising idea began to take off. To those who agreed to buy his recipe, he entered into a handshake agreement that stipulated payment to him of a nickel (36 cents in 2006 dollars) for each chicken the restaurant sold. By 1964, at age 74, Colonel Sanders had more than 600 franchised outlets for his chicken in the United States and Canada.

Colonel Sanders said of the beginning days, “I hand-mixed the spices in those days like mixing cement on a specially cleaned concrete floor on my back porch in Corbin. I used a scoop to make a tunnel in the flour and then carefully mixed in the herbs and spices. My wife, Claudia, was my packing girl, my warehouse supervisor, my delivery person – you name it. Our garage was the warehouse. After I hit the road selling franchises for my chicken, that left Claudia behind to fill the orders for the seasoned flour mix. She’d fill the orders in little paper sacks with cellophane linings and package them for shipment. Then she had to put them on a midnight train.” In 1964, Colonel Sanders sold his interest in the U.S. Company for $2 million ($13 million in 2006 dollars) but remained the public spokesman for the company. The company continued to grow and in 2004, KFC did over $12 billion in sales and now serves over 8 million customers daily in over 13,000 restaurants in 80 countries.

In seeking to achieve prosperity, there will be failures along the way. We must come to view mistakes not as failure, but as learning. God designed us to learn by making mistakes. In the Old Testament, the word “sin” is translated from the word “hattat” which literally means “to fail or miss.” In the New Testament, the word “sin” is translated from the Greek word “hamartia” which literally means “miss the mark” derived from the sport of archery. When an archer missed his target it was called “sin.” In archery when you miss the target it doesn’t mean it is over. You simply missed the mark or target with that arrow. You can attempt again and again until you hit the mark. So in life, there will be times we miss our target but this is not the end. We can learn from our mistakes and attempt again and again until we hit our target. Achieving prosperity is not a single event but a process. What matters more than where you are is the direction you are heading.

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