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Your Last Mistake Could Be Your Next Big Opportunity

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Your Last Mistake Could Be Your Next Big Opportunity

Mistakes give us an opportunity to “do it better” the next time.

While Hollywood loves its time-travel tales, those of us in the real world—especially the business world—usually believe we’re stuck with our past mistakes. No amount of money can buy that yet-to-be-invented time machine (think “Back to the Future”), and no magical clinch of the fists in a dark closet (as in the recent “About Time”) can transplant us to the moments right before we said or did something we regretted. But that doesn't mean our longing for a redo must live only in fantasyland. 

In business, as in Hollywood, we have the power to yell, “Cut!” We might not be able to un-do a scene, but we can do a retake if we act quickly, intelligently and—perhaps hardest of all—humbly.

"In business, as in Hollywood, we have the power to yell, “Cut!”

This applies doubly to companies. Businesses can turnaround. The caveat: a business's senior leaders have to recognize and admit mistakes. That can be ridiculously difficult, but the payoff is huge. It’s the mistakes in business, as in life, that give us an opportunity not only for a re-take but for game-changing reinvention.

In fact, I’d argue that the more mistakes you, or your business, have made in the past, the better—as long as you identify them and take corrective actions.  Think about it. Would you, or your company, be as successful today without the benefit of lessons that were learned the hard way?

Mistakes give us an opportunity to “do it better” the next time. Unfortunately, many businesses have zero tolerance for errors. They view even the simplest of mistakes as a failure, not as a learning opportunity.

And, as leaders, we are so geared toward achievement that we never give ourselves the permission to examine our mistakes. Most of us would prefer to simply put that gaffe in a box and bury it for all eternity. That in itself is a mistake.

A better course: embrace the miscues. This means taking the time out to assess. What shortcomings did we bring to that last project? What decision led to an underwhelming or botched product launch? What words did we speak—and later have to eat? If we had that Hollywood retake, how would the situation play out differently? Map it out, rehearse it and then capitalize on it for growth.

Flashes of ineptitude sew the seeds for turnaround success. The challenge is getting out of our cultural norms of perfection and fear of risk-taking to recognize that missteps—small or large—can create great businesses and exceptional leaders.

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Laurie Brunner
Laurie Brunner
As President at MainStream Management (“MainStream”), Ms. Brunner has oversight for the major functions of the company including strategy, operations, consulting delivery, product initiatives, marketing, and business development. She is responsible for steering the company towards long-term growth opportunities and extending the company’s worldwide market presence. Ms. Brunner is deeply knowledgeable in designing and implementing performance improvement initiatives and serves as an invaluable advisor to organizations seeking to develop project leadership capabilities and advance business success through people. Ms. Brunner has experience in organizational restructuring, employee engagement and programs to enhance the competitiveness of Fortune 500 and public sector clients globally. Ms. Brunner’s international experience spans worldwide across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, having supported clients in Brazil, Canada, China, Singapore, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, along with delivery work for clients in the Middle East.