The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What did you learn from your biggest failure? is written by Jared Simon, COO and cofounder of HotelTonight.
In a previous job, I spent an entire year of my young career devoted to a project I was really passionate about. My company had been trying to build relevance in a very competitive space, and I thought I had the solution. I proposed my idea, got sign-off, and got to work. I put together a team and did a ton of market research on what the product would look like, how it would help customers, and how we would make it happen.
But when it was time to launch, the company balked. It turned out that when push came to shove, some of the stakeholders weren’t ready to give up part of their budgets toward supporting this new venture. What had felt like my life’s work for a full year, suddenly collapsed. I felt as if I had wasted the company’s time and let my team down. It sucked. But the upside (there’s always an upside) was that it taught me a lot about what I do and do not want in a company, and about better ways to successfully pitch my ideas and allow those ideas to evolve. And it set me on my current path, which led to the founding of HotelTonight — the best career decision I ever made.
When I was presenting my launch plan for the failed project, I emphasized how great it was for the company, and how it would make us a ton of money and solve customer problems. I talked about how the world was heading in this direction, and how important it was for us to be at the forefront of the trend. These were strong and valid points — but no matter how strong and valid, they weren’t going to overcome the personal interests of the various stakeholders. What I should have done was tailor the message to the people I was trying to convince, and demonstrate how it would be specifically valuable to them. No matter how rational or sophisticated someone is, it can be really hard to separate personal interests from collective value.
I apply these lessons daily at HotelTonight. I constantly need to tailor my message — whether that’s selling my idea to our board of directors, our hotel partners, or the team who will be executing it. While the idea stays the same, the delivery changes. For example, much of what we do at HotelTonight involves offering discounted hotel rooms to customers. As you might imagine, hotels aren’t always enamored with giving out discounts, so a pure discount message wouldn’t work — no matter how many bookings it would produce. But a focus on the targeted nature of our discounting strategy, and the way it attracts incremental bookers, has been a winner for us with hotels, and ultimately, a winner for our customers as well.
None of this is to say you should pander to anyone, or water down your ideas. That’s never a great strategy for success. But if you’re open minded, one of the side benefits of tailoring your message is that in the process, you often discover ways to make your idea even better. In my failure scenario, I didn’t do that — I wanted to keep my idea the way I presented it. I learned that even when an idea is “your baby” is has to morph once you share it. If you’re unwilling to be flexible, pride can get in the way and make it tough to get your ideas approved, which prevents them from developing into something truly workable.
Feedback can be a great thing, and the final result is often so much better than its original incarnation. The ultimate solution might take a different form than the initial idea — and that’s not only okay, but often terrific. This is also something we’ve woven into the fabric at HotelTonight — actionable feedback is everyone’s responsibility. It helps us all make more informed decisions and take better risks, resulting in more successful products and features — and much happier hotels and bookers.