On Mistakes, and the Benefit of Learning from Them

By June 7, 2011Public Relations


If you can’t admit you’ve made them, you don’t belong here. I’ve made a lot of them; some of them real doozies.  I’ve come  to appreciate the benefit of mistakes; that for every one I’ve made, even the ones that harbor deep regret, I’ve learned, and become better for the experience.

A while ago I watched this video and became captivated by Kathryn Schultz’s topic: read Why Being Wrong is Good for You. I think this is the kind of lesson we all need now and again; and even if we already know it, is worth the regular reminder.

Communications — the industry in which I work — would not exist if it weren’t for mistakes — misunderstandings, missteps (intentional or not) by corporations necessitating public relations strategy, major snafus discovered and shared by media and social media that can make or break a brand’s reputation. I should be grateful for mistakes! Much of what I do centers on keeping clients from making them, or helping clean them up when they occur.

James Dyson, famed innovator and vacuum cleaner mogul shares his story of the 5,000 mistakes he made before creating the Dyson vacuum that took his name to the top of the industry.

If you’re brave enough, tell me in the comments about a mistake you’ve made, and learned from.

While you eat your lunch today, (come on, I know you’ll be at your desk munching on a sandwich), watch the following 10 minute video. Diana Laufenberg teaches us how we learn from mistakes, and why it’s important.


  • I just recently made a doozy myself. I’m talking about the kind I don’t think I’ve ever made in all my years as a consultant (that’s all I’m brave enough to say and I must protect the innocent). Now your post isn’t completely about that kind of mistake, but I think my reflections might fit in. My mistake gave me a chance to do what I’ve tried myself in the past and encouraged clients to try too. You’ve got to give a real, sincere apology and take the consequences calmly. You can be thoughtful about your response, but don’t take too long. There can be no evading. You can try an explanation (if you have one), but it’s got to be a reason not an excuse. Don’t go on and on either because then you’re making it all about you rather than the person you’re trying to apologize to. Give the person (or company or the public-at-large) real permission to figure out what happens next in your relationship. Then you better get busy learning from what you’ve done and trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Can you tell it’s all fresh in my mind? I’m happy to report that my apology was accepted and I think she and I might be okay. I also got to learn a good lesson and I’ve remembered the power of the apology.

  • Marijean says:

    What a great reminder about the power of the apology! Thank you Allison. While it’s not easy to do, it is always worthwhile. I have no doubt that you will turn this into a positive. Sometimes the lesson that comes out of a mistake isn’t realized for a long time!