We’ve all made mistakes in our businesses and our lives. Some of them are doozies. We even repeat some of them a few times over.
In the words of the ever-quotable Steve Jobs, “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”
In fact, if one Googles “Steve Jobs Mistakes,” he or she will find several business publications quick to enumerate the mistakes. Here’s one such post. As we all know, pointing out someone else’s mistakes is way easier than taking risks ourselves.
So let’s get back to the gaffes, blunders, and other slips and falls that occur in our work lives. They fall into many categories: miscalculation of opportunities and risks, flawed business practices, lack of attention to detail, or sometimes just plain social sloppiness.
“What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in business?” I asked a group of professionals. They were quick to share their goofs. These are just a few samples:
“Once I agreed on an open-ended contract for a salary without thinking about the conditions. When I was working for a large corporation, I could easily walk down the hall and get opinions. You don’t necessarily have that when you are an entrepreneur.”
David Adler, Founder & CEO of BizBash Media
“I sent an e-mail to a hiring manager about a candidate I was working with. But I accidentally copied my candidate (who I was talking about negatively) in the e-mail.”
Nina Parr, Co-Founder, The Love Your Job Project
“I deleted a whole product – our most popular vaporizer – from our e-commerce website. I had only been at the company a few months.”
Holly Bennett, PR Associate, TorontoVaporizer.ca
“Under financial pressure, we gave away a huge percentage of our company to a new partner. Despite nagging red flags during our first meeting, I allowed myself to believe that this person would solve all our problems. In reality, we found ourselves mired in all sort of new issues.”
Colin Mathews, CEO, 12ish
Adding my own mistake to the list, I realize now that I spent way too much time on my business and not enough on my family and myself when I was launching my company. Our passion as entrepreneurs often drives us to develop “tunnel vision,” and unless some brilliant innovator crafts a time machine, lost hours with loved ones can never be recalled.
As the above anecdotes confirm, some business errors are often likely to occur when we’re in unchartered or new territory and we ignore our guts or the advice of experienced advisors. Although entrepreneurs often innovate by totally ignoring popular wisdom, some situations may require reaching out to people with more experience. Listening to stories of other professionals’ mistakes is not only humbling, it can be educational. Knowing what pitfalls to avoid is important.
Speed can also be a factor in business screw-ups. Pausing for a moment before hitting the “send” key can spare many a red face and awkwardness in the future.
Mistakes can also point out holes in a system or process. For example, Bennett’s goof resulted in a tightening-up of the back-end of the site, so that inexperienced or slippery fingers wouldn’t hurt the business in the future. It is a great example of a potential disaster that had a happy ending.
If you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over (and over) again, take a page from two creative business leaders. Elaine Wherry, founder of Meebo, kept and analyzed a six-year diary of her fails. Luc Levesque, founder of Travelpod created the “boss blueprint” to give his team a checklist to guide their operations.
What do you do when you screw up? The response was unanimous. Dealing with an error as soon as possible is essential. Says Billy Bauer, Marketing Director atRoyce Leather, “Admit your mistake immediately. It’s like ripping off a Band Aid. It is painful in the beginning, but as soon as you get it over with, the healing can begin.”
Marilyn Santiesteban, Assistant Director of Career Services, Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, offers her three steps for dealing with the aftermath of a mistake:
- Apologize immediately
- Own it. Don’t blame others.
- Fix it! Have a plan for correcting the error (or preventing the same error in the future)
Admitting errors to ones investors, staff, supervisor, and even oneself is never easy. You will be admired more in the long-run for your candor and transparency. Remember to analyze what went wrong, but don’t dwell on the mistake or beat yourself up over it. Apply the learning to growth and prosperity.