Learning from Mistakes

A friend relates this story from early in his career:

Those leaders who can admit their mistakes — at least to themselves — have an edge.

About 1961, I was a display ad rep for the Coos Bay World, which is a daily newspaper. We had a coupon days. The local music store, the Music Box, offered pianos at a 5% discount. They didn’t get one coupon back. My fellow ad salesman, Gerry Schmidt, said, “Let’s find out why.”

We did a numbers count of all the store coupons. The ones that came back in large amounts were all low-ticket items. Small priced items — which a piano definitely is not. At the next coupon days, we got the Music Box owner to offer piano sheet music at ten for a buck. He got back 97 coupons, and sold three pianos.

I miss the biz at times. I could tell when I helped — and when I didn’t help, could figure out why and do better the next time.

How many of us take the time — and find the humility — to reflect on, and learn from, our mistakes? And how often do we scurry on without a backward glance, as if to hide from the mistake, and by denying it, doom ourselves to repeat it?

Take a moment right now to think about a recent mistake or disappointment. Now, detach yourself from it and look at it as objectively as you can, as if it had happened to someone else. What can be learned from it? What might work better next time? What additional information do you need to figure out what the lesson was?

You’ve just taken a profound step in the direction of continual self improvement. Develop this habit, and you will out-perform 90% of the people in your industry.

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