How to Turn Mistakes Into Opportunities

Jun 23, 2011
4 Min Read

No matter how much education we have, no matter how many training courses we take, no matter how much motivation we have to succeed, and no matter if we have all the right tools for the job, it is a frustrating fact of life that we all make mistakes.

What is the best way to move forward after a mistake has been made? If it was your mistake, you can step up and take ownership. But what if the mistake was made by someone else?

Don’t Blame the Person

First and foremost, realize most errors are not intentional---keep this in mind. On the contrary, most errors occur whilst the person was acting with the best of intentions. This is key. Differentiate between the original intent and the outcome (the mistake).

Second, some mistakes are unavoidable. Sure, in hindsight, the appropriate course of action might be obvious. But this is because there is additional data available to us now. In the moment, at that time, perhaps there is nothing that could have been done differently.

Blame the Process

Just because nothing could have been done differently then, does not mean we cannot do things differently in the future. When a mistake has been made, especially if it is a recurring mistake, examine the process.


As a very basic example, when a student makes spelling errors often, he learns to incorporate the spell check tool to avoid that in the future. Similarly, when a hiring error is made, the solution might be to add an extra step during the recruiting or selection process that will mitigate future risk.

This strategy can work in a team environment as well, where the mistakes often occur around communication and leadership. Was there a miscommunication where everyone was not on the same page? Add a step to future projects that incorporates an additional check-in meeting. Even mistakes that seem to originate within a person can be addressed with a process-based solution. Was it an error of judgment? Perhaps consulting a mentor can help.

As humans, we should expect that we will all make mistakes at some point. But blaming others for these mistakes, or being harshly judged for these errors, can feel unfair. Mistakes are a byproduct of both the person and the environment surrounding them; instead of seeking to change the person, change your process.

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