Small Business and Startups: What Would You do Differently?

Mom told us to learn from our mistakes. The world’s great religions teach us that our transgressions will be forgiven. Redemption is all around us every wherever we look, whether as a plot-line in a movie or in the world of politics. Entrepreneurs make mistakes every single day, many of them completely unforced errors. Sometimes these mistakes have a negligible impact on the business, but other times can be profound. We all work hard to minimize the mistakes and mitigate the effects when they do happen, but what about afterwards? Crises come and crises go and there is often little that can be done to avoid them, but one of the characteristics of a great entrepreneur is in how they handle the aftermath of a mistake. How they analyze what occurred and what they learn from it can be more important that the mistake itself.

Since Ross and I launched crowdSPRING we have made numerous mistakes (just like everyone else) and we try hard to take time to look at the mistakes, consider their ultimate impact, discuss what we might have done differently, and (hopefully) learn enough such that we don’t repeat the mistake again. Here are a few specific tips on steps you might take to help figure out what you’d do differently!

1. Do a post-mortem. Wipe the whiteboard clean, get out the colored markers and start listing what went wrong, when it went wrong, and how it went wrong. The first step in understanding the mistake is to be clear on exactly what it was and how it happened. If the goal is to learn from mistakes and avoid them in the future, you have to look straight at it with eyes wide open and lay it out for yourself and your team.

2. Take it seriously. Sometimes we fall into the habit of simply moving past our mistakes without taking the time to reflect. We justify this by telling ourselves that this was just a little thing. or this was just a one-off. Well the truth is that we can learn from our small mistakes as readily as our large ones. Take your mistakes seriously and take the time to learn from all of them – major or minor, simple or complex.

3. Be transparent. Don’t try to hide your mistake or the impact of it from your team, your customers, or your investors. These relationships are based on trust as much as anything else and hiding your error can cause as much damage as the error itself. If we are to learn from our mistakes and determine what we would do differently, we need sunshine on the problem to best understand what happened.

4. Listen to others. If the goal is to learn from our mistakes a critical component of doing so is to listen to what others have to say about it. Your team, your mentors, your advisors, even your customers are great sources of wisdom and ideas and you should never hesitate to hear what they have to say and learn from them. In spite of what you might think in the heat of the moment plenty of other people have made the same or similar mistakes already and you can learn much from their experience.

5. Make change happen. If the goal is to learn from mistakes and do things differently next time, the most important factor is your willingness and commitment to make changes. These could be change in your process, change in your strategy, change in execution, or even change in your company structure. The nature of the change is wholly dependent on the nature of the mistake you’re attempting to mitigate, but your commitment to change is the core. To do things differently means to affect change.

Have you made a mistake that impacted your business? Did you make the needed adjustments to affect change? Fee free to share here – we’re really interested in learning what you would do differently next time! 

Photo: Derek Jeter commits a rare error at shortstop, by Keith Allison