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Fail Fast, Fail Often: Learn From Your Mistakes


Written for The Nova Scotia Business Journal

I recently read a quote from actor Denzel Washington who said: “My mother never gave up on me. I messed up in school so much they were sending me home, but my mother sent me right back.” We may not be in school anymore but like all professionals, we should be in a constant state of learning. When we’re on a learning path, there is always the opportunity to mess up.

We all follow systems for success but adult learning is a process of becoming aware of our shortcomings, getting knowledge, adapting what you learn and building the skills. The thing is we are all human. No one is going to be perfect 100 per cent of the time. No matter how much experience people have, they still mess up. Its human nature to make mistakes, but making the mistake isn’t nearly as important as what you do next.

My boss has the office right next to mine. If I mess up, I march into his office and say “I messed up.” I feel bad for anyone who feels embarrassed or ashamed to admit they failed. If you can’t acknowledge it, how can you learn from it? Realizing that you missed something, understanding that there was a better way to approach a situation — there’s so much power in that. Harness that power. If you have a systematic approach and can recognize where it went off the tracks, you gain the confidence to get yourself back where you need to be.

I am very fortunate to have managers who welcome debriefing my calls and meetings. I would be a lot less motivated to tell them “I need help” if it wasn’t something they vocalized consistently. I know that when I tell them I messed up, they’ll debrief the situation with me and we’ll work through it. Typically I’ll explain the circumstances, they’ll ask me for my opinion on what I could have done differently, comment on them, and then offer suggestions. We may “role play” the situation and try a new approach. Ultimately, we work together to gain some knowledge, understand the new behaviour that needs to be implemented, and check to ensure I maintain a positive attitude. This takes patience, on their part and mine.

David Sandler said fail fast and fail often to get better. Are you learning from your mistakes?

©2011 Sandler Training Inc. ( is an international sales, customer service and management training/consulting firm. For a free copy of Why Salespeople Fail and What to Do about It, call Sandler Training at 902-468-0787 or e-mail

Eric Fry

Sandler trainer