“Oh no, that’s so awful,” was Hanna’s reaction to my description of a truly embarrassing mistake that had sneaked into my newly published book.
“Actually, I’m quite OK with it,” was my reaction. I’d just published my first book, which I am proud of. There was disbelief at the other end of the phone.
I do see her perspective. Hanna holds a senior position in a large multinational company that is expected to produce near-perfect results. Big brands do not make mistakes. I’ve been in the situation myself – check, double-check, triple-check. Well aware of the capital risk of making blunders in a corporate setting – losing my job – I spent a lot of time making sure that I had covered myself in my previous life in the corporate world, too.
Small Business owners cannot afford to spend too many resources on analysing mistakes. The opportunity costs of focusing on what went wrong, rather than on what works, are immense: lower productivity, reduced creativity and even fear of making mistakes, which results in inaction. The more your business grows, the higher the risk that you institutionalise the fear of making mistakes. Is your business guilty of this?
I was happy that my friend assumed the mistake in my book must have felt awful. It made me determined not to dwell on the typos and move on. I counted seven attitudes that I decided not to fall victim to:
1. IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE, DON’T STICK YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND
Instead, tell others about it. This is probably the most effective cure to relieve the mixed feelings of embarrassment and regret: when you tell others about it, you’ll get it out of your system and you won’t dwell on it anymore. The ultimate litmus test: you’re joking about it and people laugh with empathy.
2. DON’T KICK YOURSELF
You’re the one who notices the mistake the most. I asked quite a few friends to read my book and give me feedback. This one particular mistake was pointed out by only one out of five people who read my printed book with the purpose of giving me feedback. This means that four out of five people don’t even notice the blunders we make.
3. IT’S NOT WORTH YOUR TIME SEARCHING FOR A SCAPEGOAT
This one is easy for Small Business owners, because the person responsible is always you. In corporate life, searching for someone to blame happens quite regularly with the purpose of “learning from mistakes”. However, pointing fingers creates the stifling fear of making mistakes, and it’s the boss (me) who’s responsible anyway.
4. MISTAKES ARE OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN, BUT DON’T FALL INTO THE TRAP OF PARALYSIS
As toddlers, we learned to walk by falling over. However, we did not agonize over why we’d fallen. We just got up and tried over and over again. Large corporations spend too many resources finding out why even small things go wrong. Accept that doers make mistakes, and just get on with it.
5. FOCUS ON THE BIG PICTURE THAT IS WORKING
Not on the few details that can still be improved. I’m proud of my book. I’ve received the feedback that means the world to me: it has helped people. The book is me, it serves its purpose, and, yes, it’s not flawless.
6. DOING THINGS GETS YOU THERE
Whether prototypes or first print runs – they’re not the end product. Get market feedback to improve the second version.
7. AND FINALLY, WHENEVER NEEDED, APOLOGIZE
Dear Prime Minister Lee of Singapore. I am very sorry that I addressed you by your first name, which is, of course, totally inappropriate. Not only did your family name get lost somewhere in the process, your Chinese first name also fell victim to my computer’s spell check. Having lived in Singapore for seven years now, it’s very ignorant to get the name of your head of state wrong, isn’t it? I’ve corrected your name in the second edition of my book. May I offer you a free copy of my book with the corrected name?