Big, Fat Mistakes: Your Biggest Career Asset
I encourage you, please, to make mistakes.
Here’s the twist. I only want you to make a very specific style of mistake – the sort smart people make.
A friend of mine was inspiringly positive after deciding to embark on a new phase of his career. I was sharing my experiences of shaping a new career direction. He was most hungry for insights on what not to do. He told me: When I trained as a pilot, my instructor made this one rule: “You will not have a prang unless it is an original one.”
I loved that! It reminded me of the advice I got recently from a Sydney business leader:
You can take the learning without having to go through the lessons yourself.
Learn from other people’s mistakes. It’s as simple as that.
My mate Oscar reckons company annual reports need a section titled: “Lessons We Learnt This Year From Our Stuff-Ups.” I love that too! Imagine how much all could learn if there was a culture of sharing mistakes, and the learnings from them. Sadly, very few CEOs or Boards have the guts to do that. Warren Buffett does. He’s an exception.
Learning from mistakes starts from having the courage and ability to face reality. Look hard at a situation and see what is really there. And then tell the truth.
It is human nature to gloss over bad news. We all do it. Margaret Heffernan calls it ‘wilful blindness’ – ignoring the obvious at our peril.
Here are three ways to make facing reality and learning from mistakes habits you and your business can embrace:
1. CELEBRATE AND SHARE YOUR STUFF UPS
“Executives must be able to advocate for the truth” says Paul Gibson from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Create a culture where sharing failure – being open and frank – is real. I have always shared my stuff-ups, taking valuable lessons from them. I’ve also encouraged teams to share theirs, far and wide. We learn more from these stories than from hearing of triumphs.
2. REWARD OUTSTANDING MANAGEMENT OF FAILURE
Reward staff on their ability to identify and manage issues or failure. The reality of business means there will be set-backs. Things will go wrong. Strategy will be off track. Reward the ability to see that, and the courage to face it, address it, make further change. Successful businesses also accept to take a risk you have to be prepared to make a mistake.
3. RETREAT SLOWLY
Face reality, see the problems, and then work hard at addressing them while protecting financial performance, and minimising decline. This might mean slowing down another initiative, delaying hires, postponing discretionary spend, or driving hard for extra revenues elsewhere.
We need to face reality, and also must take hard decisions fast to protect our commitments to our ‘owners,’ and to ourselves. (While ‘Retreat slowly’ is an excellent compass point, we also need to heed the advice of Sun Zi: “Sometimes the best strategy is just to run away”.)
Learn from mistakes. Take the lessons from the setback and errors others have made. Learn from your own stuff-ups. Face reality. Look hard at a situation. See what is really there. Tell the truth.
Then take action, fast and decisively.
Exciting news for fans of Chris’ posts on our blog: He’s just published a book, ‘Savage Oxygen‘, and we have three copies to give away!
Described as a ‘mobile mentor’ of inspiration for happier, more successful careers, ‘Savage Oxygen’ will fuel you with fresh energy and optimism, and inspire growth – whatever your stage of career.
To enter, email us your name and phone number by 15th July. Good luck!