Golden Business Ideas

Take Advantage of Oops!

A friend of mine once complained, “Why can’t I learn from my successes? Why do I have to learn from my mistakes?”

Now that he’s older and presumably wiser, he probably recognizes the truth behind James Joyce’s observation, “A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.”

But that’s easier said than done. Our culture—especially our work culture—is designed to reward us when we’re right, not when we mess up. As a result, most people fear being wrong. Or, put more accurately, they worry about being exposed for making a mistake: the humiliation, the loss of respect—and even the possibility of being fired.

So, if errors really are portals of discovery, how come (taking off on the Rodney Dangerfield quip) they don’t get no respect?

Consider this: One of the most prevalent workplace anxieties is fear of making an error. As a result, many people hone their skill in blaming others and protecting themselves—which exacerbates the workplace worry about making a mistake.

Ironically, most corporate training programs inadvertently nurture that workplace worry. After all, the training focuses on success stories and positive role models. You’re not likely to find examples of foul-ups. No way is oops! ever on the agenda; no way is oops! going to get respect.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Wise, sensitive and innovative managers can do much to help their staff put fear of making a blunder in its proper perspective. Here are some examples of what managers can do:

When an error is discovered, instead of dumping on the person who erred, use it as a teaching opportunity—making it clear that you want the staff to focus less on the error and more on learning and recovering from it.

Support efforts to try new approaches. Encourage the staff to “think out of the box” and re-evaluate all age-old processes and policies. Encourage open discussion of the results of these efforts.

During training programs, seek examples of mistakes made by your organization and others and then use them as teaching tools.

Once you overcome—or at least diminish—the workplace paranoia about failure, you’ll discover a serendipitous benefit: Without fear of reprisal, people’s inherent creativity (“Hey, let’s give it a try!”) will blossom.

And who knows where that may lead?

Filling a Disaster Plan Gap

If you have a disaster plan, congratulations. Odds are, however, that your plan, as good as it may be, is probably ignoring one issue: What if a disaster hits one of your key suppliers?

If even one vital resource gets knocked out, how likely is it that its competitors wouldn’t be able to fill the gap on short notice—leaving you in a very desperate situation?

Check into your key suppliers’ contingency plans now. For safety’s sake, you may choose to split your business among several suppliers, even if it means losing some bargaining muscle.

Debunking a Myth

Accountants are often accused of being so focused on details that they miss the Big Picture.

As Roger Penske, the head of United Auto Group, once said: “I’m concerned about the details. I get people smarter than me to handle the bigger issues.”

An Invitation

The JofA publishes a monthly collection of Golden Business Ideas and invites readers to contribute their favorites (for attribution, if you like).

Send your ideas to Senior Editor Stanley Zarowin via either e-mail ( ) or regular mail at the Journal of Accountancy, Harborside Financial Center, 201 Plaza Three, Jersey City, NJ 07311-3881.


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