Whoops… you just ballsed that one well and truly up, didn’t you! We all make mistakes. But they’re only bad news when we don’t learn from them. So how do you do it?
You can only learn from your mistakes when you ‘fess up to them. It’s one thing denying them to other people but when you deny them to yourself, you’re in trouble. And blaming others is just as bad, a crazy way to proceed when taking the blame out of the equation leaves you free and clear to take insights on board. As a general rule facing up to mad decisions or unwise actions can make your business better, stronger and more profitable.
We’re not too bad in Britain. We’re happier to admit to our mistakes than, for example, Americans because so many of them are brought up to think mistakes are unacceptable, shameful things. We take the mickey out of ourselves fairly mercilessly, we’re often self-effacing to an extreme and as a result we’re much more forgiving of ourselves when something goes pear shaped.
Fallibility isn’t the end of the world. Far from it. In fact the more challenging the goal, the more likely you are to put your foot in it to spectacular effect. Some business leaders even swear by making mistakes because getting things wrong takes them in all sorts of interesting directions they wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. So it makes sense that the more ambitious you are for your business, the better able you need to be to overcome duhs and learn from them.
Different kinds of mistakes
Daft mistakes: Absurd things like mistakenly throwing away all your customer contact information or going out without your knickers on.
Simple mistakes: Things you could easily avoid if you’d only done things a different way, for example when your power gets cut off because you’ve put off paying the bill for too long.
Medium-rare mistakes: Where you know the risks but it takes effort to prevent them happening, like when you can’t be bothered to learn about VAT so fall horribly foul of the tax man.
Complicated mistakes: Things you can’t seem to avoid no matter how hard you try, like a relationship that breaks down despite all your best efforts.
About learning from mistakes
Knowledge is power. You need to know your enemy intimately. When you accept responsibility instead of being in denial, you’re in a position to learn. Just because you’ve buggered things up, it doesn’t mean you’re hopeless. While you can’t turn back time, you are in charge of your attitude to mistakes.
If you can see room for improvement it’s a positive thing – growth starts here! Ask yourself why it happened and what factors made it happen. What could you have done to avoid it? What alternatives did you have? What needs to be done to avoid it happening again and again?
8 sensible questions to ask yourself
- Was it really a mistake? Or might a bit of time and distance make things look a whole lot rosier?
- What was the sequence of events? Jot it down so you can examine it easily and see it clearly
- Was it one massive duh or did several small mistakes add up to one huge one?
- Was it unavoidable?
- Were your assumptions and goals miles off-piste in the first place?
- Could you have recognised the signs earlier?
- If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done?
- What will you do differently next time?
Three simple steps to making the most of mistakes
• Consciously put yourself in situations where you can make exciting, off the wall mistakes
• Have the self-confidence to confess to and own them
• Make courageous or dramatic changes if that’s what it takes to prevent it recurring
What’s your worst ever business mistake?
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