We’ve been making mistakes as a company for the past 51 years. That’s not necessarily a banner ad we have running on our website homepage or a fact that we regularly trumpet to prospective clients. Yet it’s something that I draw a lot of confidence from and know is a competitive advantage for our organization.

Fifty-one years. That’s a long time. Probably most of or more than your lifetime if you’re reading this. The ancient Athenian Democracy rose and crumbled in less time. (Fun fact!) The sheer number of mistakes over those years is something that not everyone might want to glory in, but I find a peculiar satisfaction in pointing it out and explaining why it’s a good thing for us and our clients.

We aren’t making the same mistakes we made 51 years ago. We aren’t making the same mistakes we made 25 years ago. And hopefully, we’re not making the same mistakes we made 5 years ago. We’re always learning, and one of the best instructors in business and in life is failure. I’ve had my fair share of embarrassing failures, but I’ve also been spared of MANY because of the institutional memory of the other good folks on staff here and their cautionary wisdom. Someone did what you’re talking about doing 18 years ago… this is how it panned out. Might want to rethink the strategy. If your culture recognizes mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve, then the longer you’re around, the better you’ll be.

Here are 3 quick thoughts on mistakes and what we can do to learn from them.

1. Remember that they happen. We’ve got to start with the obvious… but sometimes it doesn’t seem all that obvious. We regularly forget that we are imperfect creatures and that we make mistakes. Parenting toddlers serves as a constant reminder of this truth. If my 3 year-old son spills some milk out of his cereal bowl while he’s at the table and my initial reaction is anger, then I’ve forgotten that truth. The human element is real. Warren Buffet has locked his keys in his car and muttered under his breath about it. I can’t verify this… but I’m pretty sure it’s true. If not Warren than maybe Bill Gates or fill-in-the-blank successful person. Point is, we all do it. No matter how experienced, no matter how seasoned, it happens. And it’ll continue to happen.

2. Who do you want to be? Think of your life reading like a novel. What kind of character are you? What kind of character would you like to be? When a mistake has been made (yours or someone else’s) how do you want your character to respond? Most likely you have in your mind an ideal response of how someone should react to different mistakes you’ve made. Just about every day provides an opportunity to be that character you want to be. The angry dad, the mopey co-worker, the jealous boyfriend. When mistakes happen, how does your character normally respond? Now how would you like for them to respond?

3. Safeguards. Avoiding mistakes is preferred. I think there is consensus on that point. I’ve been told (many times) that doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. But how many times do we encounter a mistake that could have been so easily avoided had it been for a few simple safeguards? Technology can be a very helpful friend in this arena. Reminders, checklists, notifications… thanks to the little computer in your pocket you just don’t have much of an excuse anymore. Hopefully you work in a culture where your coworkers serve as living breathing safeguards as well. I’m so grateful we have a mix of talented people here who are naturally good with details or else I’d be lost. What safeguards are you using?

Three quick thoughts. There could be so many more.. and they wouldn’t all be quick. Your perspective on mistakes could very well determine the difference between a good company culture and a toxic one. Dare I go farther? It will dramatically impact your home, your relationships. We’re blessed in that most of the mistakes we will make in life won’t happen on a battlefield. Meaning it won’t be life or death. Remembering that might be a good start to learning from your mistakes.

Hmm… I think I’ve talked myself into putting that opening line to the article somewhere on our website homepage.