Learn From Your Mistakes or Enjoy Them in Round II

I was at a presentation recently where one of the handouts included the following quote. I thought it was a great one to share:

“No one learns from success; you really only learn from your mistakes and failures.”

– John Rowland, former governor of Connecticut

I love it, because it’s the essence of what makes a good turnaround professional. Oh, no, no – those failures are long past. We’re in the business of succeeding where it was not done before us. But as I’m fond of saying, it’s the gray hair or no-hair ones who succeed in this business.

That’s because we’ve been around long enough to have seen so much. No, it’s not that we were failing and learning so many lessons from our mistakes (though we’ve all got some gems in there, I’m sure). It’s that we’ve had so much experience of our own and watching and learning from others’ mistakes and all of the business hullabaloo that goes on around us.

I’m going to encourage you to take some time to think about some of your mistakes and share them. This is a great team-building exercise and a great way to pass around your wisdom. I suggest that you ask every member of your team to think about and explain – to everyone else – one big mistake he or she made and what was learned from that mistake. You never know who’s going to need that wisdom to avoid a blunder that could cost your company big-time.

What lessons have you learned from your mistakes and failures?

The Old Dog May Not Learn New Tricks, But He Can Always Learn New Lessons

As I vacation in Italy, I find myself learning an important lesson – not one that I didn’t tacitly understand before, but one that became more pronounced in my mind over the last few days.

I’ve always said that in the business of turnaround you want to go with the gray-hair or no-hair guy. That means that you want the guy with the experience. People don’t just enter turnaround fresh out of business school. They get experience by being involved in tons of other businesses, transactions, organizations and the like – especially ones that have faced crises and big problems.

But two people (or groups) have taught me a valuable corollary lesson: you’re never too old to learn something new.

The first person who helped me see this was my wife. In preparation for our trip to Italy – a place we try to go often and that we plan on returning to in the future – my wife started studying Italian with a new language program. Though she didn’t have much time before we came, she loved learning it and has already put many of the phrases and much of her vocabulary to good use. And she’s learning tons more every day we’re here.

I was so impressed that in her mid-fifties she started learning a new language. It’s enriching her life, it’s helping ours, and she’s found that the act of learning a new language and subsequently thinking in that language is letting her look at the world – and especially Italy – in different ways.

Now, my lesson of “never too old to learn something new” does not come from her learning Italian at her age – she’s not old at all! It’s me learning that at my age I can still learn new things and gain valuable experiences.

The other place I’ve learned this lesson is from my partners. They’re a great group, but they’re not gray-hair/old-hair people. They’re experienced but far more youthful than I am. That makes me think twice about my favorite saying, since I learn a ton from them and value the incredible work they do. As excellent turnaround professionals, my partners have taught me that there’s always something new to be learned, and you don’t have to be bald or gray to teach the lesson.

So, as I explore Italy, I have a renewed sense of the value of new experiences and new knowledge and the ways those experiences can enrich my life and the lives and businesses of my clients. I may have seen darn near everything under the sun as it relates to turnaround and business, but every star out there is a sun so I suppose there’s a lot left to learn.

What new lessons have you learned?

What Texas Hold ‘Em Can Teach You about Business

All business proceeds on beliefs, or judgement of probabilities, and not on certainties.

  • Charles W. Eliot

If that isn’t the truth, I don’t know what is. My business is driven by businesses that believe that business is certain.

Business is Not Certain

I won’t go so far as to say that business is a gamble, because business is no roulette wheel. Roulette is entirely a game of probability. And when you add 0 and 00 onto the wheel it becomes probability that’s stacked against you every time.

Business is more like poker. You know what’s in your hand (King-4 suited, let’s say), and that hand is playable.

As the game proceeds and cards come out, you have a better idea of the conditions, like your assets, customer base, and so forth.

However, there are also things you can’t affect – though you can make educated predictions – like what’s in your opponent’s hand. In business that would translate to prevailing market conditions, natural disasters that disrupt supply lines (can anyone say Japanese Tsunami?), and so on.

Beliefs, Judgments & Probabilities

People who play poker purely based on the mathematics believe that, if they look at and comprehend everything on the table and what their opponents could be holding, poker is a game of probability.

However those who play Hold ‘Em know that they also have to follow their guts and use their instincts, taking subtle clues from the situation around them. How long did their opponent take to check, bet or raise? What was that raise and how does it compare to the blinds and the pot? Did you perceive a tell and are you sure that is his tell? What’s the pot at? Is he bluffing? Should I bluff?

The answers to all of these questions are, to some degree, unknowns, and our opponents are thinking comparable things (remember, in the analogy, poker opponents aren’t our business competitors – they’re larger issues we don’t know a lot about).

It is due to these questions, our gut feelings about their combination of possibilities and effects, and sheer probability, that we make decisions and act, both in poker and in business.

The Illusion of Certainty

Nothing is certain because we don’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt what’s in another person’s hand.

When businesses make spreadsheets and predictions, they fail to understand that they haven’t accounted for everything. There are unknowns and spreadsheets are based on assumptions. Spreadsheets are almost always wrong. And try as we might to act based on spreadsheets and these assumptions, an opponent’s better hand is still going to beat us.

But if you’re a good player, and you consider as much as you can, and act in accord with what you’ve considered – and you face your harsh reality (i.e. what’s in your pocket and what comes out on the table as it comes) – then you can act intelligently.

If you lose a hand – and you will – that’s okay. As long as there are still chips in your stack – which we’ll call your contingency plans, something every business should have – you’ve made it to fight another day, and play another hand.


Remember, the business lesson to learn from Texas Hold ‘Em is that nothing is certain in business. As Charles Eliot says, everything is based on belief, judgment and probability. It’s understanding that fact, and acting based on it and those beliefs, judgments and probabilities, that will make you a good business leader.

And don’t forget,¬†you only get knocked out of Texas Hold ‘Em when you go all in.

Do you play poker? How do you apply it’s lessons to business? What other games in life help you learn about business?