burgundy flowers, pen and notebook on a desk

Learning from Business Mistakes

"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes." - John Wooden

Now I don't know who John Wooden is, but I do know that I make mistakes - a lot of mistakes.

Last week, I had the dubious distinction of being the only person I know of to trip going UP the stairs. I was carrying a cup of coffee in my left hand and a piece of toast in my right and ascending the stairs to start work for the day. My dog, Shadow, raced up to my right just as my left moccasin slipped off my foot. I caught my foot on the stairwell, and pitched forward.

In a split second, I had to decide, "Do I save the coffee, the toast, or me?" Well, the coffee sloshed over, the toast landed butter-side down, and I did a nice forearm-face-butt plant that left impressive bruises on my now coffee-splattered personage.

My dog, of course, looked concerned, then snatched up the piece of toast with glee. So much for man, or woman's best friend.

I was thinking about that fall today. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone falls now and then. In business, we make lots of mistakes. We hire the wrong person. We invest time and energy into projects that fizzle out. We launch a new website only to realize that it's not responsive. We make a typo in the annual report, or print a sign that says CHRIS IS RISEN instead of, you know, the son of God, Christ. (I saw that one on Facebook and truly appreciated it as only a writer can appreciate such a magnificent typo.)

After a fall, what do you do? Do you pick yourself up and keep going? Do you nurse your wounds and bemoan your fate? Do you blame others?

When I told my husband later about my fall, he had a good laugh, then asked, "Did Shadow trip you?" I could easily have blamed the dog. Heck, I could even have blamed my moccasins. They are too loose, anyway. But neither caused my fall. I was trying to hurry to work. I was carrying too many things. I'd filled my coffee cup to the brim. It was that kind of a day. It all added up to a spectacular trip and fall that ruined a good piece of toast and necessitated an impromptu scrubbing of my wooden steps.

When mistakes happen, you can blame the dog, your shoe, or your slippery steps. Or you can simply laugh and say, "Yes, I tripped and made a mistake." Then you grab the paper towels and start mopping up the mess.

Good business people know that grabbing the paper towels, mopping up the mess, feeding the rest of the toast to the dog and giving yourself a refill on the coffee is what to do next. It's really no use blaming spilled coffee, loose shoes or slippery steps. Instead, take immediate action to claim and own your mistake...then fix it.

I think you can tell a lot about a person by the bruises they wear and the blame they affix on others. We can only progress in our careers and lives if we accept responsibility for things that are our fault. More importantly, when problems and mistakes happen, we have to be the strong shoulders to bear the load and fix the problem.

When mistakes happen, pick yourself up, accept responsibility, fix what you can, and move on. Most mistakes in business as in life are like a spilled cup of coffee or dog-eaten, butter-side-down fallen piece of toast.

Smart business people know that it's only a piece of toast, after all. There's a whole loaf of bread waiting in the kitchen.