Mistakes are Overrated

"Fail fast, fail forward - or you could just not fail" Daniel Knight

In recent years mistakes has become a trendy buzzword for entrepreneurs with many highly successful and influential people telling us we should rush out and make mistakes to learn from but are we really learning from our mistakes or is a culture of business mediocrity developing?

Only in retrospect can we asses what we have learned from a mistake. Successful people find this an easier task as success often asks us to think about how we got to where we are today but for most of us, mistakes can either have a positive or negative impact to our goals, career, business and even life.

Let’s focus on business with some examples:

Some mistakes are easier to learn from than others. As children we often learn that heat can be painful by touching something hot. The pain teaches us that touching hot things isn’t a wise move – an easy mistake to learn from. 

A harder and more complex mistake would be starting a business with limited knowledge of your chosen industry as this often unravels into multiple mistakes or what I call a mistake chain. Although valuable lessons can be learned by entering a mistake chain, with this example specifically, there are many detrimental ripple effects which occur after your first 2 to 3 mistakes such as developing a bad reputation for your business, showing a lack of integrity in your service and displaying a lack of focus or even interest in what you’re attempting to offer.

You need to determine which mistakes are going to be valuable and which are going to hinder you – how do you do this I hear you asking? Do your best to avoid making a mistake in the first place!

Nobody is perfect and no entrepreneurs aim should be to start a perfect business because this in itself can develop into a mistake but your intent should be to do your absolute best by becoming an expert in your industry, attend classes, learn from others (think about mentors), and think less about the questions you’re comfortable answering during client meetings and more about the questions your clients might ask which could leave you stumped. This will help you identify gaps in your own knowledge. 

The issue I have with making mistakes becoming a primary goal of anybody who follows the wide array of motivational superstars or inspirational business leaders telling us how great it is, is they often leave out the most important learning curve; making a mistake and learning from it is a part of human development, making the same mistake with slight differences, in most cases, is not. 

If I asked you to describe, in one word, a child that had touched a hot radiator and burned themselves who went on to burn themselves again multiple times by touching an open flame on the hob, putting their hand in an open fire and running through a bonfire your answer would most likely be; stupid. 

If I asked you to describe in one word an entrepreneur who started a business without knowing their customer who went onto offer their newly designed shoes to double amputees your answer would most likely be; stupid.

As obvious as the above examples may seem to you, there are many entrepreneurs who are stumbling their way to a dead end by making the same mistake repeatedly all in the name of making mistakes and how great they can be. 

We are not trying to pot the black from a certain spot on the table (practicing), we are starting businesses which are defined by the people who represent them, the quality of their product or service and their ability to meet their customers’ demands (within reason).

Value the mistakes you make but think less about making them and focus more on not making them in the first place. 

Have I made mistakes? Plenty.

To avoid being stuck in a mistake chain I decided to take a break from developing business ideas a few years back. I was throwing darts in a dark room and nothing was landing where I wanted it to. The mistakes I was making were not related to my ideas (for the most part) but one of my primary mistakes was telling myself that I had to rush out and complete a puzzle whilst doing a marathon. I hate running and I don't like puzzles. I learned that sometimes it's okay to take some time to figure out what you're passionate about - sometimes it's okay to check you have a parachute before jumping, sometimes it's okay to figure out your value so that potential customers can understand your value too.