How to Learn From Your Mistakes

  • When you make a mistake, own up and take it on the chin. Mistakes are much worse when people try to cover them up or shift the blame. It almost never works and ends up being much more damaging.
  • Following a mistake, try to think about what led up to it. The objective is to try to learn what you should have done differently and not make the same mistake twice. For instance, are you too optimistic? Did someone tell you about a situation and you ignored it? Were you trying to achieve something that is beyond your knowledge, experience or ability? Did you ignore a staff problem hoping it would go away? Depending on which of these or other factors apply, you may want to deliberately try to change your behaviour in the future.
  • If your mistake impacts a customer, put it right if you possibly can. Go the second mile, phone up the customer and apologise, provide some compensation if that is appropriate. It's usually a lot cheaper to deal with a customer problem quickly rather than hope that it goes away.
  • If your mistake is truly cataclysmic, be honest with yourself. I ask myself sometimes if I'm in the wrong job, and we should all do the same from time to time.
  • Use that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that you get when you know that you've badly messed up. I remember it and try to motivate myself to never make that particular mistake again.

We all make mistakes, it's human. The people who particularly suffer are those who don't acknowledge the fact and can't learn from their history. I make every effort not to be one of them.

Chris Barling, chief executive officer, co-founded E-Commerce and EPOS systems vendor, Sellerdeck in 1996. Originally published on Business Matters.

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