Own your mistakes

We all make mistakes.

From little mistakes like slipping on odd socks in the morning, to seismic errors like running a `RM -RF` (remove directories and their contents recursively – aka delete everything here!) in a live production environment on an app where the folder in question has no backups.

I’ve seen both happen, and thankfully between those two examples, I’m happy to report I’ve only ever worn a weird mix of odd socks.

Nevertheless, I’ve made some howlers in my time (emailing the competing agency with some fantastic ideas instead of the client we were both pitching to is a classic of mine).

Mistakes come in all shapes and sizes, but what you do after you’ve made a mistake is where you can learn a lot or, conversely, nothing.

Mistakes aren’t always a single thing happening, but sometimes a consistent behaviour that can lead to a point of failure or an unwanted outcome.

If you’ve made a sizeable mistake, kick things off in the right way by:

  1. Owning the mistake.
  2. Taking a breath.
  3. Coming up with a short-term and longer-term plan for how to resolve it.
  4. Working out what you can learn from the mistake and putting measures in place to stop it from happening in the future.

Throughout each of these stages, keep people updated. No long reports are needed, just regular, timely updates on what’s happening. This will reassure them and give you time to pause and keep track.

Own the mistake.

Don’t hang around or play the blame game if you’ve messed up. Step up, own the mistake and take charge on leading a way out of it. Be honest, be reactive and get things started.

Take a breath.

Take a few moments to take a few breaths. Go outside, get some air, and maybe try a few breathing exercises. Chances are, you’re feeling a little tense after discovering your mistake, don’t go into the following steps without taking a moment or two.

Plan a resolution

Get some lists going. An excellent way to tackle more significant mistakes is to create a list of actions you’ll do now and another list of things that’ll happen later.

They don’t need to be detailed or long, but they need to put some measurable actions in place.

The ‘right now’ list will help you quickly communicate your plan and give your peers, team or customers something to review; the ‘later’ list will help you formulate a longer-term strategy and learn from your mistake.

Discover something to learn.

Chances are your ‘right now’ list doesn’t give you something to learn immediately as it’ll be higher-paced and look for critical actions to get things back on track.

Use your ‘later’ list to build out a set of actions that will help you:

  • Resolve the original mistake
  • Build protections that’ll reduce the risk of it happening again
  • Give you key points to learn from

Can you think of a recent mistake you’ve made? How did you deal with it? How could you learn more from that mistake?

Photo by Jonathan Taylor on Unsplash

This post was written by James Kindred

Oh, hey! I’m James Kindred - a graphic designer in Suffolk, UK, and I run Fork: a creative consultancy for start-ups and scaling brands. With over 25 years of experience, I work with start-up and scale-up brands to develop their identity, collateral and brand strategy.

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