June 29, 2011

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We all make mistakes. But only some of us learn from them. (Image credit: greatleadershipbydan.com)











I’ve been watching a lot of sports lately — ask my wife and she’ll tell you I always watch sports, which is kind of true — and a thought occurred to me. It doesn’t bother me that players make mistakes. What is mind blowing and frustrating is how often they make the same mistakes.

A friend of mine, Cam Gross, who has done a lot of work for Best Buy once told me the company’s philosophy on making mistakes. He said doing so was encouraged, even expected. But ONLY if the employees and the company learned from them. In other words, it wasn’t ok to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. My guess is that could end up costing you your job.

You’ve heard it a million times — we all make mistakes. We have to in order to learn the best way to do things. And hopefully our companies are like Best Buy and they give us the opportunity to fail in the short term so we can succeed in the long term.

Brands need to give their employees the right to make mistakes. But in turn, we need to be willing to acknowledge when things don’t go like we thought they would. And we have to agree to change and do it better next time. Otherwise, it makes no sense for companies to give us some rope and our ability to progress and evolve as people and brands becomes significantly hampered.

So how do we show that we learned from a mistake? Well, it’s that first step that’s the hardest — admitting you were wrong. What most people still don’t get is that embracing failure and sharing what you learned from it is a sign of strength. It’s a characteristic found in good leaders. Even if your boss or colleagues jump your case in the short term, they will respect you more in the long term.

So don’t be afraid to fail. But do be afraid to not learn from your failure. There is a distinct difference.


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StephRWong 70 pts

Just took my first acting class last night and the first thing the instructor talked about was the fact that failure is inevitable. But that it was okay because you need to "embrace the sucking" as she said. And of course as you said, most overseers expect you to learn from your mistakes. And the best part about making mistakes is that there is potential for everyone to eventually know what you're doing and be good at it. It's all a learning process anyway. What would anything be like if everyone knew how to do their job starting out. None of us would build any character and strength!

JGoldsborough 175 pts moderator

StephRWong "What would anything be like if everyone knew how to do their job starting out. None of us would build any character and strength!" -- Exactly!

Embrace the sucking is awesome. People need to put egos aside and realize that it's shows strength to embrace failure. Especially is you become better for it. What kind of acting do you do, btw? My sister lives in L.A. and is giving the acting thing a whirl :).

StephRWong 70 pts

JGoldsborough I'm trying out acting for film and television--also giving it a whirl (which I'll probably fail at a million times before I get anywhere but it could be worth the risk (: ). I live in LA for school also! Maybe I'll bump into your sister at an audition lol.

AngEngland 8 pts

I just heard on the radio a snippet about a study someone had done about BLAME and how somewhere around 75% of Americans are deficient when it comes to dealing with blame. Either we mistakenly and inappropriately take too much blame on ourselves for situations that were outside our control, or we tend to put aside all blame, even things we should be claiming responsibility for. This article definitely touches on that....if we can't have a healthy view of "wrong" we will be too busy justifying or passing the buck, to learn anything.

JGoldsborough 175 pts

AngEngland Agree 100 percent. It shows strength to be able to take blame and admit you were wrong. It also shows strength to let people fail so they learn the right way to do things. Passing the buck means you will make the same mistake again. And that's what is truly wrong. Thanks for stopping by, AE.

ValerieSimon 13 pts

A former boss who I greatly admire once told me the story of his first huge business mistake. He was working at a large ad agency and it cost the agency a big client. He went to his boss with his head down and a letter of resignation in his hands. "I assume you are expecting me to resign," he said in shame. His bossed looked at him and said, "After all I've just invested in your education??" He went on to do great things for the agency, ultimately heading up a large division. Mistakes are painful, no two ways about it. But you are right, for companies and individuals it is so important to check your ego. Own the error. And find a way to do things better moving forward.

JGoldsborough 175 pts

ValerieSimon Love that story. So cool! That's the right way for his boss to look at it too -- investing in his education. It costs companies so much money to rehire and retrain new people. And then they have to make the same mistakes to get back to the level the previous person was.

svilardo2 11 pts

Failure is inevitable. Failure to learn from your failures is inexcusable. "Brands need to give their employees the right to make mistakes." This statement is extremely true. Especially coming from a corporate job where failure meant getting in trouble. I find that with the people I work with now, as the owner of my own company, it makes work so much better (and improves the morale) if we all come together and almost celebrate failure, figure out what went wrong, what we can learn from it and often times come out with a ton of new ideas.

Failure can be a great thing for a company. Bouncing back often increases the tensile strength of a team. Failure is good. Not learning from it...not so good!

JGoldsborough 175 pts

svilardo2 Very well said, my friend. Failure can be the best teaching tool out there. I think my buddy camgross and Best Buy have it right. But I'm curious to understand more about how you celebrate failure. Because I think not celebrating or discussing failure is what leads to not learning from it, which as you said, is inexcusable.

svilardo2 11 pts

JGoldsborough It is quite simple really. If you look back in time to all of the great inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, you will notice one thing that usually differentiates them from those who have not quite achieved the same status. Failure. Take Thomas Edison's famous quote for example (which I have hanging up in my office) "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Your failures are nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, you are that many steps closer to perfecting your trade. Why not celebrate those steps?

Part of me hates to say it is only a numbers game because at what number do you give up? 10? 100? 1000? It isn't about numbers, it is about finding out and passing along all the ways that it doesn't work...until you find something that does.

Like ValerieSimon said in her story, by failing you are investing in your education and the education of those around you.

JGoldsborough 175 pts moderator

svilardo2 ValerieSimon Well said. And not giving up means you are trying new angles, which mean you are learning from your mistakes.

Love that quote, btw!


  1. [...] It’s true, we all make mistakes. What matters is how you address them after the fact. Do you learn from them or are you doomed to repeat those same mistakes? In his recent blog post, Justin Goldsborough addresses how to pick yourself up after mistakes, and how to learn from them. [...]