Service of Mistakes That Are Not All Bad

April 26th, 2018

Categories: Leadership, Learning, Mistakes


“As long as they are well-intentioned, mistakes are not a matter for shame, but for learning”– Margaret Heffernan, Businesswoman. That’s what you read after Matt Schiller’s signature on his e-mail. He’s advertising and business manager for Catholic New York. I noticed the quote when I was in touch with him earlier this week. Heffernan, headquartered in the UK, is an international businesswoman, author and TED speaker.

The quote reminded me of a perfect way to finesse a mistake that impressed me years ago. The speaker was VP of design for a luxury brand; well regarded in the interior design world; a big deal at the American Society of Interior Designers and president of the International Furnishings and Design Association at the time of this story. One of his board members proudly presented a brochure on furniture design at the annual meeting that her committee had just published. Instead of speaking with this person privately, a busy-body, also on the board, raised her hand and said, “I saw a typo on page four….” Robert replied, [and I bet it wasn’t true]: “We always place an error in our marketing materials just to see if people are reading them.”


When I told Matt about this incident he admired Robert’s response, “his defense of a team member and his non-confrontational way of handling what could have become a tense situation. That’s the kind of leadership we need more of in every aspect of life.” Matt added: “I have often said to colleagues, ‘I have made an incredible number of mistakes in my life, and I have tried to learn something from each of them.’”

My biggest mistakes happen when I don’t follow my gut and when I work when too tired. I don’t always listen to my instinct and I don’t stop when I know that I’ll get whatever I’m working on accomplished in a fraction of the time the next morning.

Other mistakes happen when dealing with vendors who deliberately hide information or don’t volunteer what may change a prospect’s mind about accepting their proposal. They hope you won’t ask the pertinent questions. These are the mistakes Margaret Heffernan refers to. The fix: Experience. You learn what questions to ask.

In what category do most of your mistakes fall–when you don’t listen to your gut; you work when exhausted; you’re misled and haven’t asked the right questions to unearth the facts or something else?



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3 Responses to “Service of Mistakes That Are Not All Bad”

  1. Protius Said:

    This isn’t as easy a question to answer as it might appear, but I’m inclined to believe our most basic mistake is to make decisions before they ought to be made.

    Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing to do. Sometimes we are impatient, rush making a decision and thus unnecessarily cause ourselves to miss considering something crucial to getting it right. Of course, the opposite can also happen. By dithering in our decision making, events pass us by, and we miss out the other way.

    Last year’s movies about Dunkirk and Churchill’s Darkest Hour, are great illustrations of how crucial good decision making can be. Would Hitler have won World War II if he had decided to annihilate the British army at Dunkirk and invade a defenseless England in 1940? Probably not, but we will never know.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right, although often we don’t have the luxury of time to decide next steps. I suspect that the kind of projects you directed and decisions you make today have broader ramifications than most of the ones I deal with daily.

    The current administration rushes into its choices of key players based on a person being a nice guy or one who gets along with the president and so often, the lack of proper vetting ends up slapping them, and the prospect, in the face and nobody wins.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Mistakes are a part of the human condition, and like weeds, they keep popping up. Life is way too short to waste time on any but the worst bloopers, If one has the good sense to just shut up, many will go unnoticed. As to the rest, best policy is to make amends wherever possible and go on with life. .

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