Recognizing and learning from your mistakes is the ultimate growth tool.  Starting out my business career in China, as I did, led me to have very few mentors and people I followed.

Aside from self-teaching and research, a good chunk of what I learned was via trial and error.  Putting my hands on the hot stove and learning that it burns the skin off;  in other words, making an error that leads to cash flying out of the window faster than a scalded dog.  In the same category, are those mistakes that cause massive time and resource loss (still tends to lead back to money…).

But you know what..the same problem would happen again if I didn’t realize and fully embrace that I made the mistake.  I made it.  It was mine.  Nobody else’s.  Me.  My creation.It would happen again if I tried to shy away from the fact.

Or if I tried to explain away the phenomenon; “We’ll this happened because of x and didn’t happen because of y, and I assumed they should’ve done this…”.

Or if tried to blame the staff or a client or a supplier or whoever;  “We’ll, I told ’em to…”

Or if I tried to sugar coat;  “yes, I did this wrong, but I did this and this correct”.


One of the reasons I am a bit weirdly passionate on this topic is from my decade in China.  There, folks don’t deal with taking ownership of mistakes.  A problem sort of just…well…“happens”.  Production is all of the sudden “bad”.  Or the shipment..was…difficult.  The “problem” in a Casper-esque style fashion just sort of hovers over the unlucky and attacks where it may; but you can never be sure where the misfortunate may fall.  Because one thing you can count on…it certainly wasn’t anyone’s fault.  The Chinese find safety and security in numbers and if you can spread the mistake/error/damnable catastrophe out over 400 people, then the problem is watered down and nobody takes accountability.  If you doubt me and you are an importer, the next time you tell the supplier the factory made a production mistake, watch them do hurdles over the topic and twist around the issue until you’ve forgotten what the problem even was.  But most likely, if you are importer, you know what I’m talking about.

The first step in learning from mistakes is to quit playing games and realize the ball was passed to you and you dropped it.

Call It What It Is:  Don’t call it an accident, don’t refer to it as the incident, but realize you made a mistake.  Sometimes the moment will even call for the term “failed” or “failure” depending on the gravity of the situation.

Claim It:  Claim that bad boy.  Realize the mistake was yours.  You were the guy or gal on deck, the ball was pitched and you struck out.  It wasn’t because of management, it wasn’t because of what the client did or didn’t do.  Hey importers, it wasn’t even because of what the factory did or didn’t do.  It was your mistake, you made it, now take ownership.

Think Big and Face Challenges, No Matter How Personal

Realize You Did It:  Many people are not even reflective enough to realize when shtuff hits the fan that is was of their doing (yes, I mean to spell “shtuff” like that).  They keep trucking on; oblivious to what they are a part of and even worse, oblivious to what they are the cause of.

It’s Because of You  Something about YOU caused the problem.  I’m not talking about the actual act of causing the problem, but something deeper.  You are careless, you don’t check for detail, you didn’t follow-up…something is a-foot.  Find the root of that sucker and dig it out.  Realize there is a deeper issue and unless yanked up, it’s going to keep happening.  A person who takes credit for the good also has to be prepared to take it for the bad.

Remember to Avoid It:  Lastly, once you’ve faced facts, then on the next go-around, don’t have all this yucky uncomfortable stuff swept under the rug and act like it didn’t happen.  Review the situation in your mind so you can avoid walking down the same path.  This doesn’t make you feel like a loser but you start knowing what trails to walk down in the dangerous forest.  You can tell your colleagues, clients and SELF, “hey, don’t go that route.  I’ve been there and this is what happens…”.  It becomes a point of education, a point of growth.

This is the starter-step of learning from your mistakes.  Most people refuse introspection like this because it can lead to some discomfort, sadness and heck…it’s 2012 and according to Oprah, nobody is supposed to feel bad.  But take it from me, using these building blocks will help you in building a standard for yourself and you’ll find the competition behind you pointing fingers and running in circles.