How to always learn from failure

It is a common trope that failure is a lesson. The question is: are we learning it?

In school, we had lesson plans, curricula, lectures, and homework. To truly learn our lessons from failure – or mistakes, or problems, or imperfections – we need a lesson plan. 

When you find that something has gone wrong in your business, examine the four areas below to isolate the mistake and correct it for next time. 

Look at your process

First of all, a tip: the problem will never be your “process” as a whole, but rather a particular step in your process. 

Review your process step by step. 

(Do you not have a defined process for this work yet? Time to build one!)

Isolate each step and ask yourself: 

Learn the Lessons
  1. What was supposed to happen here?
  2. Did that actually happen?
  3. If not, why not?

Did you find your problem in the process? Determine what you can change to improve the event next time. 

Look at your communication

With clients, with colleagues, with anybody involved.

Review how and what was communicated back and forth. 

Miscommunication is probably the most common cause of error, and it can take many different forms, such as:

  • Forgetting to tell somebody something
  • Telling somebody something incorrect
  • Telling somebody something that they misunderstand
  • Taking for granted that somebody knows something
  • Not giving a clear instruction or task

I have witnessed plenty of meetings where decisions were made but no clear instructions were given. Examine how you communicate and find if the flaw was somewhere in those steps. 

Look at any distractions

There are always things you just forget. 

Review if there were moments in which your head wasn’t in the work. 

This is where you made a mistake because you weren’t focused, which may have resulted in a bad process step or a miscommunication. But the problem was not the process itself, rather your application of it. 

This is an important difference, to ensure you are correcting the right thing. 

Take a critical look at your work and determine those moments when you may have simply done the wrong thing, or done the right thing badly. 

Look at external forces

Sometimes things just happen to you. 

Review what external forces and events may have caused you problems. 

Of course, you can neither predict nor control external forces. 

But you can learn lessons from them. 

If your problem was caused by something outside of your business and outside of your control, how can you secure your practices against that event, or a similar event, happening again in the future?

It is good to know what you can’t control, so you can strengthen your position through what you can control. 

Your lessons learned plan

It is not enough to say “let’s just not do that again”. 

When a project goes wrong, it is never the whole thing, beginning to end, that is the problem. 

You have to isolate the different aspects of a project to find the place of error and ensure you keep the good stuff in place. 

Have a system to learn from your lessons learned. 

Are you spending your time on what is urgent or on what is important? 

My The Progress program gives you an outsourced Chief Strategist Officer for professional advice and performance tracking.