Learn This Secret To Fast-Tracking Success

FD004218I encourage you, please, to make mistakes. Here’s the twist. I only want you to make a very specific style of mistake- the sort smart people make. Here’s the magic. Read on.

Good Man Mark was inspiringly positive after deciding to embark on a new phase of his career. I was sharing my experiences of shaping a new career direction. He was most hungry for insights on what not to do. “When I trained as a pilot, my instructor made this one rule: ‘You will not have a prang unless it is an original one.’”

I loved that! It reminded me of the advice I got recently from a Sydney business leader:

You can take the learning without having to go through the lessons yourself.

Learn from other people’s mistakes. It’s as simple as that.

My friend Oscar reckons company annual reports need a section titled: “Lessons We Learnt This Year From Our Stuff-Ups.” I love that too! Imagine how much all could learn if there was a culture of sharing mistakes, and the learnings from them. Sadly, very few CEOs or Boards have the guts to do that. Warren Buffett does. He’s an exception.

Learning from mistakes starts from having the courage and ability to face reality. Look hard at a situation and see what is really there. And then tell the truth.

It is human nature to gloss over bad news. We all do it.  Margaret Heffernan calls it ‘willful blindness’- why we ignore the obvious at our peril.

Here are three ways to make ‘facing reality’ and learning from mistakes habits you and your business can embrace:

1.     Celebrate and Share Your Stuff Ups

“Executives must be able to advocate for the truth,” says Paul Gibson from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Create a culture where sharing failure – being open and frank- is real. I have always shared my stuff ups, taking valuable lessons from them. I’ve also encouraged teams to share theirs, far and wide. We learn more from these stories than from hearing of triumphs.

2.     Reward Outstanding Management of Failure

Reward staff on their ability to identify and manage issues or failure. The reality of business means there will be set-backs. Things will go wrong. Strategy will be off track. Reward the ability to see that, and the courage to face it, address it, make further change. Successful businesses also accept to take a risk you have to be prepared to make a mistake.

3.     “Retreat Slowly”

 Face reality, see the problems, and then work hard at addressing them while protecting financial performance, and minimizing decline. This might mean slowing down another initiative, delaying hires, postponing discretionary spend, or driving hard for extra revenues elsewhere. We need to face reality, and also must take hard decisions fast to protect our commitments to our ‘owners,’ and to ourselves. (While ‘Retreat Slowly’ is an excellent compass point, we also need to heed the advice of Sun Zi: “Sometimes the best strategy is just to run away.”)

Learn from mistakes. Take the lessons form the setback and errors others have made. Learn from your own stuff-ups. Face Reality. Look hard at a situation. See what is really there. Tell the truth. Then take action fast and decisively.

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19 Responses to Learn This Secret To Fast-Tracking Success

  1. Cam Carter August 19, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    Reminds me of an excellent Economist street banner from some time ago: ‘Don’t make the same mistake once’.
    And your thoughts today also remind me of The Service Recovery Paradox. That’s worth a revisit for us all.
    Keep up the good work Chris.

    • Chris Savage August 19, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks Cam- appreciated!!

  2. Alan Bowman August 19, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    We call this “Fail Fast”. Come up with a “growth” idea, execute…if it fails, learn, adjust, share and go again with new knowledge.

    • Chris Savage August 19, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks Alan.

  3. Michael Bunting August 19, 2015 at 11:37 am #

    Love this – perfect advice for the Kouzes & Posner leadership practice called Challenge the Process. As a matter of interest our data shows people are 25% more engaged when their boss does the advice above Chris. Maybe read our book 🙂

    • Chris Savage August 19, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

      I always read what you write. Michael!

  4. Jim August 19, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up” The great Vince Lombardi – mistakes happen, rise and shine.

    • Chris Savage August 19, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

      Thanks Jim!

  5. Clare Robinson August 19, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    Love the thought of taking the learning from others mistakes without having to go through the lesson yourself. It’s the quickest way to learn – go to others that have had the result you want and find out both their mistakes and successes and then adopt that. Thanks Chris, great post as always!

  6. Georgina Arnold August 19, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    Great advice as always Chris! A lot of points in here that the management team were I work should take on board.

    • Chris Savage August 20, 2015 at 9:15 am #

      Send them all a copy of this post, Georgina!

  7. Rob Irving August 19, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

    Winner, Chris! Champions sure know how to use failure – to improve and win (ref Matthew Syed’s book ‘Bounce’)

    • Chris Savage August 20, 2015 at 9:16 am #

      Thanks Rob.

  8. Camille August 25, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

    Curious why you particulaly chose the split milk image to accompany this possum? 🙂

    • Chris Savage August 27, 2015 at 11:05 am #

      Origianlly I had a pix of a small plane crash…then decided it was a bit insensitive…and at the last minute decided to change it. In the rush to get it out on deadline and without being able to find a pix representing a ‘crash’ or ‘mistake’ that we liked, we went for this spilt milk image! Chris

  9. Mei-ling Billing September 2, 2015 at 9:39 am #

    Chris this really resonated with me as this is how I live my life constantly consulting with others, hearing their stories and learning from their mistakes. I shall share this will my leadership team.

    • Chris Savage September 2, 2015 at 4:34 pm #

      Thanks Mei-ling. Chris

  10. Sarah Galbraith September 2, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    If you can practice the mantra of “be tough on the problem, not the person”, learning from mistakes becomes a lot easier. It’s easy to take mistakes to heart, but if you see breaking a few eggshells as a normal part of doing business, while being compassionate to the people involved, learning can flow…

    • Chris Savage September 2, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

      Thanks Sarah- agree!

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