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Reflecting on mistakes - What to do when things go wrong

February 17 - 2021

Business Insight 5 min read

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Forget the fact the country is leading the way in dealing with COVID-19 or Jacinda Ardern receives universal praise for the way she leads the country. This all meant nothing after one catastrophic event rocked the very foundations of the country.

No, it wasn't a natural disaster or a financial meltdown, it was something far worse.

The All Blacks, the country's revered rugby team, lost. And they didn't just lose, they lost to Argentina for the first time in their history. Shock, bewilderment, and anger dominated the New Zealand press in the immediate aftermath of the result.

There were calls for the head coach, Ian Foster, only a few games into his tenure to be sacked, for the players to be dropped, and (almost) for a national day of mourning to be declared.

But here's the thing, the All Blacks will learn far more from this defeat - both about themselves and about the team - than they would from another routine victory. If everything is always plain sailing, we can never expect to grow or better ourselves.

Just as this is true in sport, it's also true in business. No one wants things to go wrong but when they do they give us an opportunity to learn from them, sit down and work out what we'd do differently to stop them happening again, learn, evolve, and move on.

So when things do go wrong (as they inevitably do) here's how to deal with them:


1. Identify what's happened

First things first - figure out what's happened, what the mistake is, and who it affects. A great email marketing example is if an email campaign goes out with an error in it (we have one of the most robust 'sign off' processes in the industry but mistakes can still happen.) It could be the wrong subject line, a typo, the email could've been sent to the wrong data set - it's a long list! Once you understand what the issue is, then you can do something about it.

2. Own it

When it comes to action, the first place to start is to immediately own the mistake and have the confidence to say something hasn't gone quite right. It's not - and nor should it ever be - a blame game. By taking responsibility for what's happened (and not burying your head in the sand) you can get out in front of the mistake and begin the process of rectifying it.

3. Fix it

Some mistakes might take time to fix but others can be fixed immediately. If there's an error in an email campaign we send out, more often than not we will immediately assess the situation and respond appropriately, which might mean sending out a follow-up email acknowledging fixing the problem. Act quickly and with confidence. 

4. Learn from it & prevent it happening again

Once you get this far it's tempting just to forget about the mistake but you'd do so at your peril. Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from it, why it happened in the first place, and what you can put in place to minimise the risk of it happening again.


As this crazy year draws to a close we'll do what we always do and find some quiet time over the holiday period to reflect on the year that's been. Despite everything happening in the world, we've had some great successes and I'm incredibly proud of the way my team has adapted and evolved to a unique set of circumstances.

But we're all human - and despite best intentions - we've also had mistakes. Fortunately nothing too major, but regardless, we'll reflect on these too, learn from them, continue to grow and always strive to get better at what we do.

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