If I told you I’d done things near-perfect up until now, would you believe me? I hope not.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes. Some have been painful, and most have, eventually, been entertaining. What makes them valuable enough to share is what they’ve taught me – to look for opportunities in unexpected places.
Small mistakes, big frameworks
I’m intentionally sharing mistakes that, to most of you, won’t seem big. There are two reasons for this. Smaller slipups avoid mentioning people that shouldn’t be mentioned here, and the size or type of the mistake isn’t really what’s important (see last section). The key is developing a mindset that helps you recover from your errors, glean what they have to teach you and identify ways you can avoid making the same mistake in the future.
Mistakes were made . . . common errors and subtle bright sides
1. “Calendaring is hard.”
The oops: Sending a calendar invite to the wrong person, or at the wrong time (see #2), or on the wrong day. If you haven’t done this, you probably don’t send calendar invites.
The bright side: This is an undercover opportunity to build team or client rapport. Internally, it reminds your team you’re human and, guess what, they can relate. If you mess this up with a client, you get to the opportunity to professionally and swiftly address your mistake. Chances are, like your teammates, they can also relate.
2. “I timezoned wrong.”
The oops: Our team lives in different timezones, not to mention continents. Sometimes, before coffee or at the end of the day, it’s hard to remember what time it is in California or Europe – especially during daylights saving time. That meeting I scheduled during normal work hours? It’s actually an hour later than they usually work. Oops.
The bright side: This is a chance to remind teammates or clients that, despite your mistake, you’re really trying to take their schedule and work hours into consideration. Most folks really appreciate that. It can also be a great sidebar into personal conversation. e.g. “What kind of coffee do you drink to wake up for early meetings?”
Bonus bright side: Happen more than every-now-or-then? There’s probably a root cause worth looking into – maybe you can make an organizational tweak, like suggesting a time zone tool, to prevent this in the future. #ZerotoHero.
3. “Let’s do it! Let’s make the . . .thing?”
The oops: One of the hardest mistakes to avoid in a fast-paced industry is rushing into something without any goals or plans. You don’t have to figure it all out before you take the first step, but you’ll want to have at least one end goal defined.
The bright side: If your team has a lot of momentum but no target, you’re standing on perfect ground for a brainstorming or strategy session. How about we get all these brilliant minds together and define what we’re excited to do? (Note: Double check the calendar invite and time zones before sending.)
4. “Do you have a few minutes?”
The oops: A teammate is heads down, knees deep in a client problem. The problem is important and your ping just obliterated their train of thought.
The bright side: You get to practice apologizing, and few interpersonal skills are more important. Sincere apologies are difficult, but they are powerful. Apologize. Your relationship with your teammate will likely be stronger because of it.
Bonus bright side: Assuming you’re not an inconsiderate human, there might be root causes you can dig out here. If teammates don’t know when someone is head-down in work, encourage them to actively use Slack statuses and availability. If your team needs more quiet time to churn out work as a whole, consider setting aside certain days or times of the week where everyone gets-stuff-done individually.
So, should I try and make mistakes? Choosing wisely.
Your best bet is to think ahead. You will make mistakes and, once you make them, you can either compound or mitigate the results. Sulking through the rest of work, mentally punishing yourself or giving a bad apology will all compound your error. Being patient with yourself, apologizing well, identifying root causes and strategizing for future success will all mitigate your mistake. The compounding route will probably look pretty tempting right after you make a mistake, so I recommend making up your mind now, before things get more hairy.
The mitigation route, though it looks and often feels more difficult, usually makes you a better employee and coworker despite your mistake.
Why mistake size isn’t relevant here
No doubt, some mistakes are going to be way harder and way more painful to turn around. But the good news? The core steps and mindset aren’t too different for big goofs. This guy nearly burned out his career and walked away with a list of lessons and opportunities that restructured his approach. Seth Godin found a gem in his biggest business mistake and seems to have recovered just fine. There’s even a whole site dedicated to highlighting startup mistakes and what the founders learned.
Your own mistakes will come in all shapes and sizes. So, too, will your opportunities. Make up your mind to look for the hidden bright sides in your mistakes next time you make them. Then start practicing that mindset every chance you get.
You might just find that your mistakes are more opportunity than error.