Processing Mistakes and Losses

13 mins read

This article will take you through 3 broad categories of losses/mistakes before diving into 5 steps for processing those losses.

It’s bound to happen, and it happens to everyone. Mistakes and failures are inevitable factors of the human experience, and are additionally present in a business environment. However, as inevitable as failure and loss may be, they do not need to be bad!

Though failure and loss can be difficult things to accept, it’s worth it to take the time and create a system in which you are able to process these losses. When a business establishes a culture in which mistakes or failure are unacceptable, employees start avoiding risks, experience anxieties and fears (especially if they worry their job may be on the line over a mistake!), and often try to hide their mistakes rather than processing and learning from them. Why then, is processing losses so important? When you establish a culture in which losses and mistakes are processed together as a team, you establish openness and a willingness to learn from one another as everyone moves towards bettering themselves and the work that they do.

So, your business has experienced a loss. Now what? First thing’s first: Identify what kind of loss or mistake was made. On a broad level, there are 3 categories of mistakes/losses that can occur:1,2

1. Intelligent

Business vision and motivation of leadership concepts with sign on wood block.Direction and development of human.learning and study Business vision and motivation of leadership concepts with sign on wood block.Direction and development of human.learning and study for growing. Learning Stock PhotoIntelligent mistakes or losses are objectively the best kind to go through! When experiencing an intelligent loss, you are given the opportunity to learn from that moment, as these occur when experimentation is necessary to understand the best course of business. As your business grows and changes, you will be faced with new problems needing new solutions, and as you discover what those new solutions might be, you may encounter intelligent losses.

These are the mistakes that teach you the most as they provide a wealth of new information and understanding, and ultimately form the basis of the philosophy behind a “trial-and-error” approach. While every mistake is a learning opportunity, intelligent mistakes are those that are unavoidable and a rich resource of new directions to take.

2. Preventable

On the other hand, preventable mistakes are objectively the toughest to experience, as these are the losses that occur when troubles could have been foreseen, but weren’t. Often, preventable losses happen because best practices were not followed, necessary talents were not present in the planning or implementing stage of new ventures, or details were missed at some point in the process. While this may be the most difficult of the three forms of loss to experience, chin up! Take this opportunity to analyze the effort’s downfalls so that the next time you take new steps forward, this information will already be in your back pocket. As you move into future ventures, the lessons learned here will better equip you to prepare and follow best practices to achieve your highest results.

3. Complexity-Related/Unavoidable

The final category of mistakes or losses are complexity-related or unavoidable, often occurring in complex situations wherein there is a unique set of factors that are unforeseeable. Unlike intelligent mistakes, these are unavoidable not because experimentation is necessary, but rather a particular combination of needs, people, and problems may have never occurred before – and may never occur again. While you cannot study the exact circumstances of these mistakes to prevent their future happenings, these are the losses and mistakes that encourage implementing systems to watch for and rapidly correct small failures as they arise. These, like intelligent mistakes, are to some extent inevitable. You cannot be 100% prepared for all outcomes with an infinite amount of variables, but you can have systems in place to prevent major failure and to manage the risk to see signs of failure from further out. To prevent loss, you must first see it coming.

Okay. Now that you’ve examined the mistake or loss that occurred, it’s time to move forward from it. As earlier stated, mistakes are inevitable, failure is a piece of progress. What do you do after the mistake has been made and recognized? Here are 5 practices to help you and your colleagues process those mistakes:3

1. Don’t Take it Personally

When failure occurs, it’s too easy to play the blame game by either pointing your finger at someone else or giving up on a business venture altogether. Before you do either of these things, slow down! For more information on why blaming others is detrimental to workplace environment, check out our article Failing Forward Part 1, and let’s instead focus on why putting that blame on yourself and your business as a whole is just as harmful. When you experience loss or mistakes in your business, it does not mean that your business is a failure. Failure is not an identifier, it is an experience, and a necessary one at that! By taking mistakes to heart and allowing yourself to view your business as a failure, you lose out on all those great learning opportunities and become stuck in the belief you are a failure. Instead, remember that this is something that has happened to/with your business but does not define it.

2. Accept the Right Amount of Responsibility

As you avoid identifying your business by its failures, be sure to recognize the various factors that made this loss occur. Take responsibility for that which you have influence over but remember that simply labeling something as a complete failure is not truly taking responsibility. All one does by doing this is taking on the emotional responsibility without doing anything to actually improve. Ask yourself: What could you have done to improve matters? What factors, out of your control, have affected your success?

3. Take the Opportunity

Sometimes you win sometimes you learn inspirational motivational quote handwritten on yellow paper a rock background Sometimes you win sometimes you learn inspirational motivational quote handwritten on yellow paper on a rock background in nature. Learning Stock PhotoNow that you recognize what has occurred that didn’t work, learn from this! Initiate action. What actionable moves can you take to ensure the same losses don’t occur? If the issue lies in the personnel, be honest, and make moves to adjust for future ventures. If you need more information, more time, better tools, or anything else, take this opportunity to grow.

Loss is not a true failure, but rather a demonstration of what you need to improve and how you need to improve. A mistake is only a learning opportunity if you take that time to learn and fail forwards, allowing yourself the space to always grow and reach for new heights.

4. Accept Feedback

By encouraging feedback, you will learn more about the loss. In a company culture where “mistake” is not a taboo word, and instead individuals are encouraged to come together and come forward with suggestions, the business and employees can grow together towards new solutions! Be sure to ask input from those who were involved in the mistake, encourage them to consider these steps, but also invite input from those without a stake in the prior mistake. Outside perspectives may give you the angle or edge you’ve been missing! In all of this, as you encourage feedback and open channels of communication, listen to what is being said. Active listening is the best way to learn and move forward.

5. Try Failing Again!

Hear me out. Now that you’ve experienced loss through mistakes or failure, the development you’ve achieved and the heights you’ve reached are greater than before. Why not do it again? In our article Strategic Experimentation, we explore how to set up experiments to learn more about your business through trial-and-error. Don’t be afraid to let yourself fail. These experiments can, without costing too much, uncover weaknesses in future opportunities. In this way, failure is fundamental to your organization’s success!

The takeaway from all of this, is that the best way to process losses and mistakes is to embrace them. Celebrate them! Your business’s mistakes and losses are opportunities for growth and development. Mistakes are an inevitable and necessary part of running a business. Don’t forget, as much as you learn from mistakes, they are also incredible teaching opportunities. Use failure to mentor new employees, hold debriefing sessions, and provide additional training. By choosing to embrace failure, you are choosing to view this experience not as a negative thing to be avoided and shamed, but something to be processed and ultimately celebrated as the latest chance to strive for bigger, better things.

Remember: some ideas will work, and some won’t – and that’s okay! How can you achieve greatness if you’re not first willing to fall down?

Download this resource Processing Mistakes and Losses.

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1 Noice, Michael. “How Entrepreneurs Benefit from 3 Types of Failure.”

2 Edmonson, Amy C. “Strategies for Learning From Failure.” Harvard Business Review.

3 “Dealing with Failure.” Skills You Need.

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