Monday, March 28, 2011

Are You Making Enough Mistakes?

One of the best interview questions I have ever used is; tell me about a mistake you made and what you learned from the experience?

It’s always interesting to see the response that I get, because all too often people do not want to think about the mistakes that they made, usually any longer than they have to, trying to banish the experience from their memory as quickly as possible, which is too bad, because they are missing a rich opportunity to learn and grow.

Often, when I am speaking to hospitality students and they ask me what piece of advice I might give them, I tell them; don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and when you do, don’t run away from them, but rather use them, as an opportunity to expand yourself.

Unfortunately, people are generally way too caught up in the need to be perfect to embrace mistakes and be willing to share them, and in doing so, to share the learned experience so others can benefit from their mistake.

And when someone tells me that they rarely if ever make mistakes, it automatically makes me wonder whether or not that is true of course, but also, if it is true, then it also makes me wonder whether or not they are risk takers or not.

I spent a lot of time in my earlier article entitled; Risk, Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose, discussing this situation and peoples’ inherent need to look good or avoid looking bad, and also one of my favourite quotes on this subject; “in order to succeed you must fail, so that you know what not to do the next time.”

As I said in my earlier post, I’m not suggesting risk for risk’s sake but rather someone who looks for opportunities which may involve some degree of calculated risk, which tells me that someone is willing to risk looking bad, risk making a mistake, in pursuit of an idea – that’s a leader.

If you’re not taking a risk now and again, then maybe, just maybe, you are guilty of playing it safe and living in the world of complacency, and that is no place to live, certainly not for any length of time anyway.

I can certainly appreciate that there are times when it is more appropriate not to take risks, where it may be (incorrectly) seen as being reckless, depending on what is at stake, and especially in volatile or uncertain times in the marketplace where brand managers or owners have no appetite for risk, calculated or not. 

That said, the key is always in communication.  If you are consistently in communication with your brand manager or your owner, discussing and presenting your well thought out ideas and proposals, then you will know when you have their support for your idea or proposal, and they will be fully aware of the potential benefits, AND, the potential risks. 

So, ask yourself, if you were being interviewed right now and someone asked you to tell them about a mistake that you’ve made and what you learned from the experience, what would your answer be?  And, how far back in your career would you have to go to think of an example worth sharing?

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