My best business advice: sometimes you have to lose to win

People root for winners. Those that lose are often forgotten unless they were a Goliath type, whose defeat was at the hands of an underdog.

This is why we are quick to talk about our success, but rarely about our struggles, challenges, pain — us losing. I’m done with the facade and going to being vulnerable for a moment with my recent experience of defeat.

My big brother, Arnel Monroe, imparted this wisdom on me many years ago:

A lesson can be learned through one of two ways: 1) Thought and reflection. 2) Pain and strife.

For too long I have learned my lessons through the latter and it has taken me to the point of nearly losing it all to start learning my lessons in the former.

I’ve found myself in many great talks, panel discussions, podcasts conversations, and been a contributing writer to several articles but none of these activities lead to a positive gain in my bottom line.

I’ve attending business meetings and had introductions with senior executives, Chief Diversity Officers, HR Managers, that resulted in “we’ll get back to you”, “we have to debrief”, or “we’ll give you a call” which are all codes that I easily decipher as “ we’re not interested in what you offer”, “that is not what we thought you were selling”, and “we’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing”, respectively.

Frustration consumed me.

Why haven’t I closed more sales? Why don’t they see the value we’re offering? When will people understand there is a better way to achieve inclusion? How come we didn’t receive a bid invitation? What is their problem?

Feeling overwhelmed has been easy. In many ways I allowed myself to slip into a victim mindset, pointing and blaming others for this feeling of defeat. This victim mindset has been echoing, loudly, in my head for some time now, but that doesn’t mean there is validity in it.

Perhaps I was asking the wrong questions. The real questions to ask are why am I pretending everything’s okay and why not move on?I’ve decided to take a deep look at myself and what I come to realize is sometimes you have to lose in order to win.

Over the past few months, I’ve begun to gain a much deeper sense of clarity. While business has been slow, extremely slow, it has allowed me to reflect more on my goals, purpose, what I want to truly build, the legacy I ultimately want to leave.

I now realize that my approach to workforce culture change is ineffective. The talk of inclusion and culture sounds great, but we all know actions speak much louder than words, money talks and bullshit walks.

I see how my business offering has been a contradiction — me being adamant about no desire to be classified as a diversity practitioner, yet emphasizing the need for culture. In my mind, I understand the difference, but in the mind of my ideal clients, there isn’t one. More than likely my value proposition is off or maybe I did a poor job of communicating the value.

As a result, I now understand why people are quick to place me in all things diversity, which is not what I intended. I’m not interested in being the token black professional amongst the topic of diversity. No, I don’t want to meet another Chief Diversity Officer who has no decision-making capacity. I’m damn sure not interested in joining a supplier diversity program or becoming a certified MBE.

I see exactly why my business has been on a decline these past few quarters. What I truly wanted people to understand is that I could help them solve problems and branding with a cultural twist was a conduit in doing so. It was a concept of doing better business globally, not diversity and inclusion directly. But that is where I failed as a leader; allowing myself to get wrapped up in the D&I space.

I’m a diversity champion who loathes diversity practices

Diversity, by and large, is perceived as a nicety for most businesses — it makes some executives feel good, but when it comes to spending money, beyond the usual bias training, lunch and learns, corporate social responsibility initiative, and supplier diversity networking initiatives — it is a moot point.

It’s frustrating to communicate with people from “diverse backgrounds” who tell me that their company needs what I offer, yet they are working at a place being praised with awards and accolades for having one of the best workplaces in America or they hold quarterly symposiums addressing diversity. These companies have diversity and inclusion as a core to their business, yet looking at their leadership, the board of directors, and general workforce, it contradicts that letter from the CEO of his or her commitment to inclusion.

I know the data behind diverse and inclusive workplaces, how they are more innovative and do better than the competition. I know the opportunity of the global economy and emerging markets. Everyone has that data, yet so many choose to ignore it and no matter how many of us, champions of diversity and inclusion, fight for equality, validation, and opportunity, our society has yet come to grips in grasping what that truly means and building a new infrastructure in how we move forward, together.

Ultimately all we are doing is preaching to the choir, being supportive to each other, and hoping and wishing those in positions of power will hear us and act.

There are some business leaders who are attempting to change, others who appear truly committed, plenty who are spending money, but few who are truly investing in the type of change that is needed. Progress is happening at a snail’s pace.

Plenty of people in corporate workplace believe these things take time, but when people choose to do something they want to, it gets done.

We’ve sent people to the moon, placed supercomputers in the pockets 44% of the world’s population, and have self-driving cars, and plans to take people to Mars. We’re on the brink of solving cancer and aids. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality is finally starting to really become a thing.

To say treating people with respect, equality, providing equitable experiences, and simply being decent individuals take’s time — that is intolerable. That is not progress.

What do me loathing diversity practices have to do with my sense of defeat?

If my mission is to create the world where equity is the norm, then I can’t achieve that by consulting with companies who refuse to see the value of culture and inclusion beyond “diversity” and corporate social responsibility.

Creation is the action and process of bringing something into existence. Talking, sharing ideas, and best practice may act as a catalyst to creation, but if not acted upon, it holds no bearing.

Most companies I’ve encountered talk a good game, but in the end living in the status quo always wins over innovation. The status quo is comfortable and change is not.

This criticism also applies to myself and how I’ve chosen to operate my company over the past few years. Somewhere I lost sight of what I wanted to do, what I felt was truly needed, chasing after solving problems for people who merely wanted solutions to symptoms, not an anecdote to the root problem.

Mellie Blue’s status quo has been branding, strategy and some take on culture. We’ve lived in a perpetual cycle of comfortable iteration, but unwilling to truly pivot, until now.

I enjoy branding, I believe culture is the now and future, but these are things I’m merely passionate about. I no longer feel like they are my purpose.

I love solving tough, unruly, difficult problems and coming up with creative solutions. I love technology and science of all forms. I love design aesthetics and art. I love educating people.

Even though it’s an overused buzzword now, I truly love innovation. I love researching and learning new things. I love ideating perceivable new inventions and seeing how they could help people and our world.

Yes, some of these things can be done through strategic branding, there is definitely overlap — but I no longer see it as the way I can truly impact the world. If us branding people were truly honest with ourselves, branding is simply the manipulation of people’s emotions. What good is that, really?

It’s tough because in exactly one month from now, October 10th, I will be celebrating seven years in business. I know what an accomplishment that is and it is something I am extremely proud of. That said, I no longer feel fulfilled with the direction of my business. I can no longer iterate on a failing process.

I’m tired of trying to bring out the best in other people’s company but suffocating myself and business in the process. I’m tired of leading my company in our own cycle of perpetual status quo.

Our society prides itself on grit, determination, steadfastness, and will power. People hold perseverance and staying the course to this lofty ideal we should all be aiming for.

But there is much wisdom in knowing when it is time to let go and move on.

Besides, true perseverance, grit, and willpower are about not giving up on yourself versus giving up on an idea.

For a while, I felt like a loser because of how poor my business has performed this year. It hurts when you feel you have all of this potential and can help, yet people don’t see the value enough to invest in it. It hurts even more when you have people depending on you to provide and you are struggling to make ends meet. I thank God for my wife and her being supportive.

As hard as things have been, as defeated as I felt, I no longer feel that way because my perspective has and is changing.

I feel like a winner because I have clarity on what my career purpose is. Now, more than ever, I see the possibility of what can be and not what could have been by remixing the philosophies of other people who found their calling in branding and inclusion.

I sigh in relief publishing this article because it is a proclamation to myself and the world stating I’ll be moving in a new direction as far as my career is concerned. What direction? Let’s just say, I have some ideas.

Although they are not fully formalized, I know for certain it is the right direction for me.

If you find yourself majoring in a subject you don’t like, working for a company that no longer motivates you, or running a company of your own and your heart is not fully there — don’t be afraid to let it go and move on. I know I was, but it took me learning through pain and strife followed by thought and reflection to realize it is now time for a change. Call it pride, perhaps ego.

Remember this…you have to lose what isn’t working in order to make room for what will.

To new beginnings…

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Louis Byrd is a recovering Principal and Brand Strategist at Mellie Blue Branding, a cross-cultural brand consultancy that helps engineering and tech companies enhance their brand systems with cultural competence and intelligence. He is also Co-founder of Awari.io, an enterprise app built with cognitive technology, designed to discover hidden biases in performance management and appraisal reviews.

Tea Lover | Creative + Engineer | Director of Experience Design @VMLY&R | Chief Visionary Officer @ Goodwim Design | Woke before it was a trend!