Got a Problem? Most People Would Say to Push Forward—I Say Retreat!

UPDATED: October 4, 2015
PUBLISHED: March 23, 2015

No one likes to retreat, especially leaders like you and me. We want to push forward and make every day count. This was why early sea explorers burned their ships when they reached land. With no retreat possible, the team was forced to figure out a way  forward.

But what if burning your boat is not the best option? I don’t have a boat, but if I did, I wouldn’t want to burn it. That sounds awful. Boats are fun.

What if it’s the fear of retreating that actually holds us back from making progress?

Retreating could give us the new, experienced perspective we need in order to ultimately go forward. There are many famous military leaders who had to go backward before they figured out how to win. The same goes for innovative companies that saw many early products flop.

I wrote a book that didn’t sell very well. People just didn’t seem to understand the title. I thought it was a great title, but apparently no one else did. After I sold as many copies as I could to my mom, I retreated to a whiteboard and brainstormed based on what I learned. The result? A new book title people loved, with the same content as before. Sales took off.

How can you benefit from retreating, with or without spa privileges, to break through a setback or to innovate in solving a challenge? Here are my four steps:

1: If all is lost, graciously admit defeat and get out of the way! You can’t live to fight another day if you don’t have another day. This is particularly true if you’re getting pounded on social media. Get out now before you say something really dumb at 4 a.m. (You know what I’m talking about.)

2: Diagram what happened. Show what went right and what went terribly wrong. Why take this step? Taking the time to draw it out makes events linear. This allows you to pinpoint that costly missing link you didn’t see earlier.

3: Quit messing around and get going again! Now that you know what went wrong, apply your wiser, more experienced perspective to fight on. Your future is WAY too important for you to give up just because something didn’t go right once (or twice or 100 times). It’s not that quitters never win; it’s that they never get to live life.

4: Tell people what you learned so they don’t have to endure the same thing. This is especially true if you are leading them. When you are transparent in your learning, it’ll give your followers confidence that you won’t make that mistake again.

Most important, if you are determined to never retreat, please don’t burn your boat! If you don’t want it, I’ll take it. After all, what is better than a friend with a boat? A friend who gives you his boat.

Frustrated? Quit whining and check out 3 tactics that’ll give you a swift kick in the pants to move past a setback.