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Marketing is often described as both an art and a science—which creates an ongoing tension because attribution is hard.

My husband goes to the Gartner IT conference every year. Most recently, he brought me back a book on creative thinking by speaker Sarah Elizabeth Lewis.

As I read The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, I felt as if the current marketing and sales enablement quandary I've been writing about in this series for MarketingProfs was unfolding before me.

I started this series pondering the question "Sales Enablement: Good or Bad" as an oblique reference to the "Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad" episode from Community.

Bad Equals Good?

More than ever, I feel like the bad in this equation may be just as useful as the good in learning how to improve.

The Rise is beautiful and you should add it to your winter reading list. (Not least because as you read about Ben Saunders's expedition to the North Pole, you can more easily empathize while bundling up against the cold outside.)

In the meantime, I'll gift you with an explanation of why bad sales enablement can also be good: "It is the creative process—what drives invention, discovery, and culture—that reminds us of how to nimbly convert so-called failure into an irreplaceable advantage." (Sarah Lewis, The Rise)

A 2% return on investment sounds, out of context, not necessarily great. In the context of marketing, however, it's often hailed as a phenomenal success if the math works out well.

In complex B2B services marketing that means we often have a high tolerance for failure. Because one closed won deal might be more than an entire quarter's budget—and, more and more, in many cases an entire annual budget.

SaaS marketers typically have lower margins, a volume approach, and therefore faster feedback loops.

Both types of B2B marketers can benefit from a more flexible growth mindset.

Failures can do a few things:

  1. Harden your resolve to keep trying (but without any changes)
  2. Thicken your skin so the next failure doesn't hurt as much (which can also make the failure easier to ignore)
  3. Provide a wakeup call that the tactic doesn't work (and it's time to try something else)

Considering how rapidly things are changing, including the way reach is fracturing across a myriad of channels and platforms, we all know that there's a lot out there that is not in Marketing's control.

But what you can control is how you react to failure. That third way of processing failure can provide an unlock to improvement over time.

The Rise is all about a continual effort: "Masters are not experts because they take a subject to its conceptual end. They are masters because they realize that there isn't one." (Sarah Lewis)

If someone tells you they have figured out marketing, they are lying their face off.


Attaining mastery is always "in the permanent future."

Searching for Ways to Improve

The creative process is not about getting to a level of mastery. It's about the search for it.

And that means trying things as you search: "We make discoveries, breakthroughs, and inventions in part because we are free enough to take risks, and fail if necessary." (Sarah Lewis)

That seems like a pretty right-on way to think about marketing in the rapidly changing present.

I think of marketing as a way to spark interest and inspire action. That plays out in loads of ways, and it can often be a challenge. Sometimes it's as frustrating as those clamshell plastic packages.

The Rise points out that surrendering to the struggle is sometimes the key: "To reach an audacious goal, we sometimes benefit from having it lie just beyond our grasp." (Sarah Lewis)

You and I have both felt that same thing whenever we're soooo close to hitting an MQL quarterly goal.

When you can't grasp your goal, stop to understand why. Note what is out of your control. If you surrender to the challenge enough to accept what is out of your control, you are better positioned to focus on what is.


When you let go of the things you cannot control (email open rates are meaningless) that can give you space to not only focus but refocus and reframe (follow end visits and pageviews to the website instead).

You catch things that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

And you have time for play.

Ivy Ross, who has created innovation initiatives at major brands, describes it this way: "Innovation is an outcome. Play is a state of mind. Innovation is often what we get when we play."

Grit Pushes You Forward But Also Helps You Let Go

The Rise connects the search for mastery to Angela Duckworth's research around grit and growth mindset.

"Grit is not just a simple elbow-grease term for rugged persistence. It is an often invisible display of endurance that lets you stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve upon a given interest, and do it again and again." (Sarah Lewis)

Lewis goes on to reference Duckworth's clarification of grit as knowing when to shift tactics: Be tenacious about higher-level goals and be flexible to let go of lower-level tactics.

And then Lewis deftly draws a direct line between the arts and the scientific process, because both evolve from continual adjustments.

The scientific process is an easier lens to think about continually testing. But Lewis points out that the arts provide us with "the agency to withstand ambiguity long enough to discern whether to pursue a problem or to quit and reassess."

That, my friends, feels like a recipe for being a successful, gritty marketer:

  1. Learn from both the good and the bad.
  2. Stay open to the struggle so you can let go of what you cannot control.
  3. Be curious and apply a playful mindset.
  4. Realize that knowing when something is not working can be just as powerful as making something work.

How do you practice being a gritty marketer?

More Resources on the Role of Failure in Marketing

How to Improve Your Content Marketing by Embracing Failure

Turning Tears into Gold: How to Create a Personal Marketing Success out of Pure Despair

Don't Panic! What to Do Instead When Your Marketing Campaign Doesn't Go as Planned

A Playbook for Marketing-Led Growth: Amrita Mathur on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

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How to Be a Gritty Marketer: Leverage Failure in the Search for Mastery

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image of Cathy Colliver

Cathy Colliver is the marketing director at Test Double, a software consulting agency. She loves simplifying challenges, and her marketing career spans five industries. Cathy volunteers in arts and education.

LinkedIn: Cathy Colliver

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