09 What have you done wrong?

When I talk to an entrepreneur I want to know what they’ve done wrong. Most people want to talk about the things they’ve done right, but if we’re talking it’s a safe bet I already know what they are doing right. And besides, listening to people talk about how great they are is pretty boring. Mistakes by their very nature are embarrassing. They mean you thought something was one way and it turned out to be another. They mean you were wrong. But hopefully they also mean you learned something from being wrong, and the next time that situation arrises you’ve got the experience and the hard earned lesson to help you make the right decision.

Asking people what they’ve done wrong, depending on their answer, will generally put them in one of a few categories, and knowing what category someone is in ahead of time can really help me (and you) decide if I want to work with them to any extent in the future.

Denialists. There are people who would have you believe they have never made a mistake. They’ve always done everything correctly and for the right reasons and fate has conspired to keep them down. These people have a laundry list of things outside of their control that went wrong at one point or another that ended up negatively impacting them, but these were no fault of their own. They were right, someone else was wrong and they were left holding the bag. This is dangerous because by refusing to admit an error, these folks will make the same mistake over and over again.

This isn’t always a personal problem, sometimes it’s cultural – in many parts of the world mistakes and failure are looked down on and these people are trying to save face and cast a good light on themselves. But that doesn’t change what it says about the person and their approach. I really never want to work with these folks, because I know it won’t be long until I’m the reason things aren’t working out for them. These people aren’t always as vicious as I’m making them sound, sometimes they actually believe everything bad is everyone else’s fault. All the more reason to keep your distance.

Time Bombs. There are a very small number of people who say that nothing has ever gone wrong who are not just casting blame elsewhere. For real, everything has always worked out perfectly for them. These people are lucky bastards and are either due for a spectacular meltdown of which could happen any moment – especially if you add your own crap luck to the formula, or will always be the luckiest person in the room which is just totally annoying. These people are mostly the stuff of legends, but they do exist and I don’t like working with them either.

Then there’s everyone else.

We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all done things wrong. We all know it. The important thing is what we’ve learned from those. It doesn’t matter what you got right or wrong, but what you walked away from that experience with and how you’ll use that information to your advantage in the future.

About Sean Bonner ()

Sean Bonner lives and rides bikes in Los Angeles though is often spotted elsewhere. He’s one of the guys behind Metblogs, Neoteny Labs, Crash Space and the host of iPhun and has previously been involved with art galleries and record labels of the punk rock variety.

For more info or to hire him for some purpose, check out the about page. You can also get in touch if you are so inclined. Enjoy!

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  • http://twitter.com/PazzaArchitect Pascale Scheurer

    I like this. Very concise, clear, precise.

    In July the bottom fell out of our company due to a change in government policy. We knew it was coming and we’ve spent the last year trying to figure out what to do next, how to bounce back better. Amid the usual blah meaningless forecasts and 3-year plans, two exercises chimed with your article, and were really useful:
    – asked to list our strengths, but feeling morose, I listed instead my weaknesses, things I hate doing or do really badly. And asked a lot of people to help me. Ouch.
    – business partner and I listed all the people we respect to find common characteristics or behaviours. The outstanding one that slapped us in the face? They all got knocked down, and got back up again. Again. And again. They kept going. They did it better. They probably didn’t like failing, but they kept on going. They didn’t ignore their faults and often dwelled miserably on their mistakes. But then they got up, dusted off and started again.