I’ve said many times that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. Too often we beat ourselves up over the mistakes that we make. Innovative forward-thinking entrepreneurs make a lot of mistakes. This is normal and necessary to some extent. It’s when the same mistake is made repeatedly that there’s real cause for concern.
Understanding how mistakes are made can be helpful in eliminating their repetition. Simply shrugging off a mistake as “an unfinished experiment” is a missed opportunity to gain deeper insight into why it happened and what can be learned. This also must be tempered in the other direction. We’ve all seen sports teams that play not to lose. Often this ends badly. We can become tentative and overly-focused on avoiding mistakes. And what happens then? We actually end up making even more mistakes.
I’ve learned quite a bit about mistake-making over the course of my life and career. Many were silly. Some were more significant. Fortunately none were ever life or death. Here’s what I’ve learned.
A number of my mistakes occurred because I failed to Plan. I shot from the hip or simply jumped into the water without any forethought. Plotting a course doesn’t mean having a 40-page business plan. But it’s important to think through the different steps that will be taken to reach the ultimate objective. In the process we also look for possible hiccups that might be encountered and determine what can be done to avoid or mitigate them.
With a plan in hand we make sure we have sufficient resources to effectively implement it. Further, we also determine if we (and/or our team) are adequately Educated on what we will need to do to succeed. A large percentage of mistakes are made because those implementing the plan aren’t fully up-to-speed on how to do so. Failure to be sufficiently educated on the “how” and to understand the context of a particular situation can have deadly consequences. Think about an auto mechanic who isn’t properly trained on how to re-connect a brake line on a particular model of car. Uh oh.
Following a plan and being educated on the “how” doesn’t guarantee a mistake-free execution if Process is ignored. On June 1, 2009, Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all aboard. The report by the French Aviation agency, BEA, stated, “Temporary inconsistency between the measured airspeeds likely following the obstruction of the pitot probes by ice crystals that led in particular to autopilot disconnection and a reconfiguration to alternate law,” and “inappropriate control inputs that destabilized the flight path.” In other words, the pilots failed to follow the prescribed process for such conditions.
Here’s a cause for mistakes that happens more often to me than I care to admit. It’s called Distraction. I’ll be cranking away on a project and the phone will ring; someone stops by my office, or I need to dash off to an appointment. Unfortunately my project was interrupted and so was my train of thought. When I pick up where I left off I’m in the danger zone. Invariably there’s a gap that I can pinpoint as the root cause of whatever mistake ensues. More recently I’ve been trying to make some notes to myself before tending to the distraction.
Information Failure is usually referenced in the field of economics. But I think it can be broadened in more general terms to include mistakes that are made from bad information, bad facts and/or bad conclusions. There have been times that the data was old and I hadn’t bothered to make sure that it was current. And, there’s no doubt that I’ve drawn the wrong conclusion as a result of incomplete information.
We all want to minimize our mistakes. Understanding what causes them is the first step in this process. For me a failure to plan, be educated, follow process, becoming distracted and using bad or incomplete information are usually the reasons for my mistakes.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.