Gene Kranz, lead flight director for Mission Control said these famous words to his staff during Apollo 13's ill-fated flight in April 1970, "Failure is not an option." Many people considered the mission, made famous by the movie "Apollo 13," a failure because the objective - landing on the moon - was not reached. But was it a failure?

Thinking beyond that, do businesspeople consider themselves failures if they don't reach their planned goals and objectives?

I think not.

Although the goal of the Apollo 13 mission was to spend 33 hours on the moon conducting scientific experiments and gathering 5-million-year-old moon rocks, one of the more important aspects of the mission was to return to Earth safely. So, in a sense, the mission was not a complete failure. If you ask the families of James Lovell and the other astronauts, they'd probably answer that having their husbands and fathers home was the most successful aspect of the mission.


If you mapped out a plan for your business and strayed off course either due to poor business management skills, factors out of your control, or an act of God, would you consider yourself a failure? Do you beat yourself up over the things that have gone wrong and fail to acknowledge the things that have gone right?

I believe in learning from mistakes, failures if you will. It is a tired cliché but the smartest people, I believe, are the ones who have failed the most and learned from their setbacks. How many times did Abraham Lincoln run for elected office before he finally was elected 16th president of the United States? He didn't see failure as an excuse to shut down his ambitions.

And business owners shouldn't see failure as a reason to close up shop and pursue another line of work.

I understand how discouraging it can be to come up with a good idea and an equally good game plan, only to see it fall apart. Picking up the debris and starting again with a different plan can be time consuming, costly, and discouraging.

Discouragement and failure are two things addressed in a good business book from my friend, Ruth King. King just published a book titled "The Ugly Truth about Small Business" ( It is subtitled "50 never-saw-it-coming things that can go wrong...and what you can do about it."

In this book she tells the heart-wrenching stories of 50 businesspeople who failed in one way or another. Some picked themselves up and others didn't. King failed, but she picked herself up. It is a must read.


If you have recently experienced failure, step outside your business world for a moment. Maybe walk around the parking lot or go for a long ride in the car. Don't hold it in. You may want to call a friend, mentor, or family member. When I have a problem I always talk to my wife. She calms the stormy waters around me.

I also talk to contractors on a regular basis about their own setbacks and how they have overcome them. Some offer suggestions for me to pass along to you, NEWS' readers. Others confide in me as long as I don't retell their stories.

Still others have the familiar "no comment." I met a lot of these people while researching my upcoming book, which I'll talk more about soon.

Most contractors I have met have faced some type of failure in their business lives and bounced back. They changed their plan or their objectives without changing their overall goal: business success. They took the bad with the good and made lemonade out of lemons. And yes, some decided to shutter their businesses, unfortunately.

When Gene Kranz realized that Apollo 13 wasn't going to land on the moon he changed his plan, too. "Forget the flight plan," he told his staff. "From this moment on, we are improvising a new mission. How do we get our men home?"

John R. Hall, Business Management Editor, 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax),

Publication date: 03/27/2006