Learning From Consulting Mistakes

consulting mistakes
What you can learn from consulting mistakes

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over, and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  – Michael Jordan, Nike Commercial

Expecting perfection

I recently watched a little league game of eleven and twelve year-olds.  One boy tried to extend a single into a double and was tagged out at 2nd base.  He ran back to the dugout crying.  He had put so much pressure on himself to succeed that it tore him up when he failed.

Failure is hard.  As flexible and open minded as I like to think I am, I hate screwing up.  And I despise being told I’m wrong.

Failure is as much a part of success as succeeding

But that always seems like good advice for others.  It really sucks when we turn that advice on ourselves.

I’ve always been dismayed by parents who put pressure on their kids to get straight A’s, succeed in everything they do and berate them whenever they fail at anything.  I think they’re sending the wrong message.  Granted, getting in to a good college is more competitive than it’s ever been.  If parents aren’t pressuring their kids to get straight A’s, the colleges certainly are.

If Michael Jordan’s parents and coaches scolded and punished him every time he missed a shot, do you think he’d have become the player we all marveled at?

I’ve made my share of consulting mistakes.  Some that I’d like to go back and correct.  But I’ve learned so much from them that after contemplation, I probably wouldn’t change a thing.

Encourage “strategic failure”

I try to be tolerant of my kids’ failures.  I try to teach them that they’re supposed to fail in order to learn.

The same goes for consultants.  There is intense pressure not to fail.  Clients pay a lot of money for us to be right.  Even if your own firm has a tolerance for failure, the client is usually less forgiving.  From the client’s perspective, they expect all of the failure to have already taken place.  They’re paying for the knowledge we learned from previous mistakes.

I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard the condescending question “How much are we paying you guys?” from a client when someone on the team failed.

Consulting mistakes

One way to formalize learning from mistakes is to have ‘lessons learned’ sessions after each project.  The success of these sessions depends largely on how they are run.  If you include the blended team of client employees as well as members of your firm – and any other firms involved, you get the benefit of frank input from all stakeholders.

See my related post: How to Lose Business by Gold Plating

The risk is exposure to the client and your competitors of errors your team may have made.  Some firms only have such session with their own internal staff.  This reduces their amount of exposure, but also reduces the opportunity to get the client’s true input on ways they can improve and grow.

Failure and productive feedback can be painful, but if you don’t welcome it with open arms, you may be stuck in perpetual, comfortable mediocrity.

What consulting mistakes have you learned the most from?

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms. 

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