My Biggest Motivator: Fear of Failure

iStock_000005275485XSmallToday’s Struming looks at a personal issue: Self motivation. I share my own self-analysis freely with the hope that Strumings readers might do the same self-analysis.

Those who know me understand that I am very self-motivated. My independent nature is probably my biggest strength (but also weakness). In 7 Habits terminology, I’ve nailed the first 3 of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Habits 4-7, which are the interdependent habits, have always been a little tougher for me—hence my strong independent nature.

In my former life as an ad agency head, I was never reluctant to push others to perform at higher levels. My rationale was simple: I didn’t ask anyone to work harder than I did. I wanted to push our agency and our people to be the best they can be—for themselves and for our clients. While effort and results aren’t always exactly correlated, they certainly are directionally related. Many responded to this, others not as much.

In thinking about my underlying motivation, what made me tick, then and now, is simple:

Fear of Failure.

I would not allow myself not to succeed. Since I was working in the ad business, which had a fair amount of self-important lazy blowhards, hard work, smarts and dependability were sufficient to succeed. It worked well.

But about 5-6 years ago I faced a new fear—one that mere “hard work” couldn’t overcome alone: My fear was the real possibility that without evolving and learning that I could become a Marketing Dinosaur. My technical skills and digital knowledge had been modest. Enough to get by, but not head of the class. But the bell went off in my head in roughly 2007. My inner voice said this to me:

“Lonny you better become a digital whiz (or as close as you can be) or you will soon be a marketing dinosaur telling stories of TV shoots from the Polaroid account in the 80s”.

It’s ironic that my inner voice spoke of Polaroid—it’s a great example of yesterday’s magic technology which is now as current as yesterday’s printed newspaper.

So I dove head first into all aspects of digital marketing. Years later while I am hardly a digital whiz and may never become one, I am determined to understand how digital marketing works and how best to use the tools to connect with customers and sell products and services—the heart of all good marketing. I am a B+ student now headed to A.

One thing in the digital realm that I embraced early was social media. It’s kind of obvious now that the power of social media is tremendous and still growing. This wasn’t so obvious just 5 years ago. And many of those marketing dinosaurs were blowing off social media as an irrelevant fad. But I embraced social media and took at face value that each platform had unique opportunities, and saw that with increased penetration that they would have tremendous power for marketing a business and your own personal brand. Though I am hardly a “guru” (who is anyhow?) I am approaching whiz status and I enjoy teaching others half my age how to best use social media for marketing. As part of my self-learning, I had the opportunity to visit Facebook, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn a year ago, and hear directly from their management on their business plans. Fascinating stuff. I try to attend every webinar and read anything to advance my knowledge.

I appreciated early that social media was not a singular tactic but a variety of platforms. And most importantly, that as with any marketing tool, strategy comes before execution. I continue to grimace when I hear the lame comment, “We should do some social media”. Perhaps you should “do” some strategy first.

But not all old-school ad guys have morphed as well. I recently read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, titled Old-School Ad Execs Sweat as Data Geeks Flex Muscle. The point was obvious to me–the Don Drapers are yesterday’s news, and they are getting older and having a hard time in retaining employment. The ad industry has never been kind to its elders. Yesteryear, senior ad guys often “retired” in their 50s to launch non competitive alternate careers, well compensated with long term severance agreements. But today’s ad world is not as kind, not that the ad business ever was. The reality is that old-fashioned traditional ad guys (and gals), who cling solely to traditional marketing methods and traditional media, are becoming dinosaurs. Only those that embrace change, and the excitement that the digital world provides, will continue to flourish.

Where will marketing be headed in the coming years? No one knows with certainty. Obviously more accountability and analytics will be an even bigger part of the craft. The world becomes more digital daily. Old-time ad guys telling stories of TV shoots with Million $ production budgets will surely fade away.

That won’t be me.

More Strumings


  1. Larry Wexler says:

    Hey Lonny:
    Boy, can I relate to this piece. My younger-than-me-wife was fascinated with the Mad Men series. To me it was ho hum “been there done that.” I struggle to stay up with the myriad changes in social media but, like you, I respect its power for marketers. Focusing on writing my memoir for my grandchildren. South Carolina is lovely but very laid back. I volunteer my time these days to help others start-up and run their businesses. It seems that my experience is not worth paying for. Their loss. Hope you are well. Go Yanks…always interesting. Best regards, Larry.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      I feel the same way about Mad Men. Well done but I’ve seen it in real life. Hope life is good in South Carolina. Yankees are barely hanging on. But still alive. Be well.

Leave a Reply