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Learning From Your Experience

2012 October 6
by Annie Wallace

In 1981, Jerome Chazen, the co-founder of the fashion house, Liz Claiborne, took the company public. It was not until 30 years later that Chazen finally came to understand that although the instant profits made by the flotation at that time were exciting, it was not beneficial to his company in the long-term. He states that:

“I think we allowed the growth potential to overtake the company instead of us being in charge of it. But…it was so exciting, for me anyway, to report better and better numbers, especially after we went public … I loved those quarterly [numbers] that were up 20% or 40%, whatever. I think, looking back now, that I got carried away, that we should have done things more moderately.”

Although in cases like Chazen’s, the realisation of an error may take many years, this is not always the case. In some situations individual oversights and errors can be recognised within a very short space of time. Most of these failures may be as a result of insufficient knowledge, poor practices or simply human error.

However these mistakes are not in the same league as those that Chazen finally came to understand much too late. His was the type of mistake that causes substantial, and possibly irreversible, damage to a company or an individual’s reputation. In these situations, it is often found that people tend to avoid confronting the realisation that such mistakes stem from some flaw in their psyche and prefer to attribute them to external circumstances.

Professor Deane Shepherd’s book ‘From Lemons to Lemonade: Squeeze every Last Drop of Success out of Your Mistakes analyses the aftermath of failed projects. The book offers three key methods for recovering from such failure:

  • Focusing on alternative projects in order to refresh your energies following a failure.
  • Analysing the reasons for failure and working to correct those failures immediately.
  • Alternating between the two previous strategies.

Shepherd recommends the latter approach as it allows one to learn from their mistakes without being overwhelmed in an attempt to work through the failure. Having an alternative project is useful for dealing with failure even if it shares similar elements with the failed project. Such a project can assist in coping with the failure of the initial project.

Whether a person chooses to re-invigorate themselves following a failure may depend on their employment situation. Salaried employees are more likely to have alternative projects to attend to or may even have an opportunity to take annual leave. However, the self-employed or entrepreneurs are more likely to immediately analyse their failure and begin working to correct them. This may be because of the inherent uncertainty that comes with being an entrepreneur or from the characteristics that make an entrepreneur – or a combination of both.

Shepherd’s book details the story of Charlie Goetz, an entrepreneur who experienced both the successes and failures of business. Goetz states that:

“One thing I am doing is thinking. For the first two weeks I am thinking about why it happened. What could I have done differently? In the next two weeks I start to think about what I do now. What is my next logical step in this situation?”

Goetz’s analysis of his situation allowed him to move on from his failure in less than a month. His experience proves that early analysis of the cause of the failure, combined with the self-confidence to start over can help ensure that success will arrive sooner rather than later. Analysing the reason for failure along with taking the time to re-invigorate yourself will allow you to ensure that similar mistakes are not made in the future.

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