What to do When You Make Mistakes

written by Matthew Acton on July 3, 2013 in Productivity with no comments

At some point in our life, we all make mistakes. The difference between those that succeed at life and those that don’t, depends on how we handle our mistakes though.

You can learn by making mistakes

When you are learning is when you are most likely to make mistakes. The fact that we are constantly learning is a topic for another day though. Some people take making a mistake as being a personal failure. I was like that for many years. I felt stupid, like I wasn’t capable. It stopped me wanting to do certain things again, for fear of failing again.

The reality of the situation though, wasn’t that I was stupid or not capable. More often than not, mistakes were made due to rushing, pressure from other people or my mind being on other things that were vying for my attention.

It took until I was much older and working in industry before I realised all this though. And this is partly why I have taken an interest in self improvement.

We all make mistakes. It wasn’t just me. In most Engineering workplaces now, there is a formal checking process to try and capture mistakes. This is one of the jobs that I currently carry out. The hardest job, I find, isn’t checking the work itself (although that has its moments). The hardest part is communicating the errors to the analyst.  Nobody likes being told they are wrong.  But that is another subject for another day.

What to Do When You Make Mistakes

Obviously, that is dealing with capturing mistakes before they matter. But what happens if something slips through the net and is found at a later date. This happened to me recently. Here’s what you need to do:

Risk Assessment

What are the risks of the mistake. Is it critical? Is there a way to recover the mistake without it having an impact on the final outcome? And who needs to be made aware of the mistake. In the case of a structural analysis on an aircraft, there is often conservatism built into the analysis, so it could be that the analysis can be pulled back and the structure is still acceptable.

Hold Your Hand Up

This is the most important step, but often the hardest. Face up to the mistake. Don’t sweep it under the carpet. People will be happier that the mistake was spotted and something bad prevented from happening, than it be hidden away until it was too late. You may even get brownie points for not only spotting it, but also being brave enough to face up to it.

At the end of the day, if you point out a mistake that you have made, you are showing that you are putting the project/team ahead of yourself. You will get a heap of kudos for that. As well as the warm fuzzy feeling of doing the right thing.

Correct Your Mistake

Now for the easy bit (unless you get tied up in bureaucracy, red tape and budgets). Make your mistake right and get things back on track. Once the mistake has been corrected and nothing bad has happened, people soon forget that the mistake happened in the first place.

Learn from Your Mistake

One of my favourite quotes is from Batman Begins.  Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler says to Bruce, when he is at a particularly low point:

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.”

So now you have fallen, look at why you fell. Look at how you can pick yourself up again. And also look at how you can prevent yourself falling again. This is how we develop as a person and how we develop our skills. On a larger scale, it also improves the processes within our Company.


So don’t be afraid or ashamed when you make mistakes. Take them and make the most of them. They have already happened – we can’t do anything about that. But we can use them as a stepping block to improve from.