3 Things To Do After You’ve Made a Dumb Business Mistake

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the speaker made an important statement:

Innovation is born out of mistakes.

That stuck with me throughout the day, so I thought I’d pen this blog post about things I’ve learned from making dumb business mistakes.

As I reflect on that idea of ‘innovation is born out of mistakes’, many times people seek perfection for what they are doing rather than growing something from ideas that either worked or didn’t work.

Striving for perfection first go is a noble ambition, however it can come with the cost of failure. What happens if you can’t get it perfect, first time around?

In my early working years, I worked as an apprentice for a large manufacturing company in their ‘Research and Development department’ for the production lines that made refrigeration components,

This was for all the stuff you see on the back of your refrigerator after you pull it out from the wall when you’re cleaning or moving it.

The purpose of the Research and Development department was to improve the productivity of the production lines by providing new ways of doing things.

As an example, we could save production costs by saving the time the way a copper tube was bent into position at the back of your refrigerator.

It was a great experience, and one I’ll never forget.

How we perfected designs of tooling and equipment was by:

  • Making things,
  • Testing them, 
  • Observing what worked and didn’t work,
  • Making appropriate changes to the next prototype. 

It was like your high school science experiment lessons but in the real world, and boy did we have some failures.

Many times it was back to the drawing board to improve what didn’t work.

After repeating the process, we eventually had a new working tool jig that improved the creation of a refrigeration component.

It was pretty nifty.

But the most nifty, and unexpected thing that came from engaging in that process was how I have been able to apply it throughout my entire career.

I’ve applied those techniques to doing business and it has positively impacted the way we do things and our business growth.

But, spoiler alert: the wisdom of the world isn’t imparted to you once you’re over 50 years old. What a sham!

I still make mistakes.

Yep, it’s true. But, without my mistakes how would I learn and improve?

I have learned so much from my mistakes and use them to my advantage to improve what I’m doing in my personal life and in my business.

I know you’re reading this to figure out how to make your “uh oh” from work either go away or turn into something that’s more “woah-ho!”.

So from all of my wisdom (ha!), here are 3 things I’ve learned you have to do after you’ve made a dumb business mistake.

1. Ask questions.

What happened, and what will I do to stop it happening again?

It doesn’t cost anything to ask a question.

Questions are really useful things for making you examine the past, the present and the future.

I usually put questions into the framework of why, what, how, when, where, and who (a throw back to primary school English lessons?):

  1. Why did this happen?
  2. What happened? 
  3. How did it happen? 
  4. When did it happen?
  5. Where did it happen?
  6. Who was involved in it happening?

These six trusty interrogative questions will help you diagnose anything.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is the process of discovering root causes for problems. It aims to find and examine the root cause of a problem, rather than constantly “putting out spot fires”.

It’s based on a model of asking questions and is one of the key tools I have used in business. I have had a lot of success using it to guide my analysis of what’s happened and use it to move forward more equipped, more informed, and ready to grow.

So, ask questions! Don’t just disregard that mistake but arm yourself with the lessons learnt and a way forward.

If you want to learn more about RCA, do a quick search engine search as there is likely information on how to complete one within your industry.

2. Discover whether others have made the same mistake.

You’re feeling a bit silly, upset, confused. Some very expected and natural feelings after making a mistake.

But, you know what makes me feel a bit better?

Knowing I’m not the only one to have ever made this mistake.

One of the benefits of the Internet is the ability to search for information very easily and find out things, specifically whether they have occurred in the past or not.

If you head to your search engine right now and type in your mistake, I’d say you’re going to find someone who can empathise with you.

The only time you’ll find it doesn’t work is if there is some deliberate or meaningful reason why it hasn’t ended up being indexed by a search engine.

My experience of undergoing this type of investigation has seen me search, “developing and delivering technology systems – insert mistake -“. The search provides me with countless forums that usually describe my issue… but from the keyboard of someone else.

There’s your reassurance.

Within the forum, a number of people will verify and say, “Oh hey, I’ve got the same or similar problem”.

…And then the magic happens.

Other people respond and describe how they overcame the problem.

Some will be vague, but often there is someone who will provide a detailed outline with instructions of how they fixed the problem.


Not only do you feel reassured that you’re not the only one to be in this situation, but there are ways through it!

Obviously the key to this is finding the right web page or forum where people have reported the same problem that you have. Have a decent search and when you do find that place, take a deep breath and move to point 3.

3. Discover what opportunities can come from this mistake.

One of the quotes that I learned early in my life was,

”Problems are opportunities looking to be solved.”

Time and time again throughout my career I have seen that notion played out in many ways.

From the creation of special tools, devices, software solutions and the general the way of how to do things. The power of observing something that’s a problem and looking at it as an opportunity for something else changes the perspective on what’s happening.

History is illuminated with problems being turned into opportunities.

When we get past our initial gut-wrenching feeling of “ARGH, I’ve made a mistake”, we are able to hone in on the above two points and gain some perspective.

We can start to ask “why don’t we try it this way instead?”

And, then we can start to see things in a different light.

New opportunities.

It’s through this process that we are able to have some mental space that will expand our learning and see us create something that’s better quality to help ourselves and/or others.

New opportunities will present themselves by asking questions, talking about it with others – your colleagues, family, customers, online community, industry leaders, whoever you deem appropriate and reliable.

Completing an analysis of the situation, finding similar stories or solutions online, and determining a solution for an opportunity to change.

Don’t just stay the same or you will continue to put out spot fires and, worse still, you won’t grow or learn anything from the mistake.

In closing

When we make a mistake we have two options:

  1. Keep doing things the same way – this is kind of like the definition of insanity – or, 
  2. We can learn from the mistake and turn it into something better and sometimes something more beautiful.

This is the choice we have when mistakes occur.

I really want to encourage you to harness the opportunities for growth and change that your business mistakes allow.

It’s so easy to sweep the mess and shame under the back doormat but it doesn’t release you to move forward.

What happens next relies on how you respond to the mistake… or is it the opportunity looking to be solved?

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