Great Mistakes: What Kind of Mistake-maker Are You?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On October 29, 2012

Mistakes are part of business. We all make them, and if you haven’t made a big one you probably just haven’t been in business long enough. Granted, there are some mistakes you can (and should) avoid. What’s really important, however, is not whether or not you make mistakes (you will), but what happens next. Are you learning from your mistakes? Are you letting your mistakes drag you and your company down, or are you taking advantage of those mistakes to build a great company?

Here’s a look at a few great mistakes made by some well-known business people that ended up moving them toward greatness. For more details, you can read these stories (and more) in this report.

Wally Amos, founder of Famous Amos Cookie Co. thought his business was all about him. “I thought I was the main attraction,” he said, “and I wasn’t listening to other people.” He was forced to sell off his business and was later sued when he tried to use his own and image for a new product line.

“Teamwork is the greatest lesson I learned from losing Famous Amos,” he says. “It’s not about me, Wally Amos. It’s about respecting the rest of my team members … giving them access to make suggestions.” That’s a great revelation.

Wally Amos wasn’t the only one to make mistakes, however. Jim Koch, founder of The Boston Beer Company was so focused on finding the right ingredients and making quality beer that he neglected some critical parts of the business—specifically making sure that customers were paying him. “The only people that were paying me,” he said, “were the people who did it out of the goodness of their hearts.” As a result the company was running out of money. Koch hired a firm that specialized in helping small businesses manage cash. . “I thought, ‘If I make good beer and it sells really well, the rest should take care of itself.’ But it doesn’t always. A good financial person is more important than you think.” Great companies take care of all aspects of business—even if they have to enlist outside support.

Daymond John, founder of clothing powerhouse FUBU (which stands for For Us By Us), also had to learn some tough financial lessons by making mistakes. John spent years “not understanding how little things financially make a big difference down the line.” Because he didn’t really grasp financial concepts, he made the mistake of not putting more company money in the bank to take advantage of compounding interest.

He now advises new entrepreneurs to glean financial and business knowledge by taking classes or finding an internship in the field in which they want to work. A great leader learns to recognize his weaknesses (and how they affect his company), and then takes specific steps to overcome that weakness.

Great leaders and great companies aren’t ones that don’t make mistakes. But they learn from their mistakes and use that knowledge to propel themselves—and their businesses—to greatness.

What great mistakes have you made—and what did you learn?