Alan Jay Lerner, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, once said, “You write a hit the same way you write a flop.”

You’ve probably heard of this phenomenon countless times from artists and leaders alike. Songwriters talk about the throwaway tune that ended up becoming a massive success. Artists tell stories about cherished, inspired pieces that people ignore in favor of other, more practical work. And leaders are sometimes shocked at how some messages reverberate through their organization while others can barely penetrate.

In each case, their creative process was virtually the same, even if the results vary widely.

In our research into World-Class Performers, we learned that one of their crucial behaviors is “getting over losses quickly.” Elite individuals learn from what doesn’t work, incorporate the new information, and move on to tackle the next challenge.

Quickly moving on is most impressive when you give it your best shot. You’d written hits before. This one was a flop. But why?

For the rest of us, that’s how it starts. We fret. We ruminate. We feel bad and tell ourselves things we wouldn’t say to others. We begin to question our ability to write hits. And all of that precious energy that we could be using to move forward, improve, and write the next hit is spent looking in the rearview mirror. 

The Lerner quote came up in a recent coaching session with a candidate tasked by senior leadership to handle a big project. She did everything “right”—the same skills that made her successful in the past. She influenced, cajoled, and convinced her colleagues to get on board and to help make it happen. Despite eighteen months of blood, sweat, and tears—and a not-insignificant investment—senior leaders realized the project wasn’t meant to be, and they killed it. While her leaders praised her effort and commitment, she couldn’t shake feeling like a failure. It started impacting the rest of her work.

The breakthrough? She realized that the process isn’t always connected to the outcome. The underlying issue with the project wasn’t within her control. Outside factors outweighed her book smarts, street smarts, work ethic, and winning streak.

As we continue to navigate a global pandemic and the twists and turns that result, keep in mind that the most important thing is to keep doing the work. We can’t always control what captures others’ imagination and what gets ignored. And, if you’re coaching a next leader who has experienced a setback despite doing all the right things, keep the Alan Jay Lerner quote handy. It’s hard to argue with a World-Class Performer.