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“Making mistakes and becoming smarter is the job of an entrepreneur; not making mistakes is the job of an employee.” Robert Kiyosaki

These motivational quotes have become ubiquitous in the business world and I’m glad that it’s okay for me to make mistakes. I don’t think it’s okay to fail, though.  

Before I go any further, let me be the first to admit: I have screwed up a lot along the way. I did my company’s taxes for the first couple years, which caused me to pay the IRS more than I care to remember. I chose to give my company the same name as a billion other graphic design firms, which makes Googling super fun and pointless. I chose to work without a backup system for the first year of the business, only to discover one morning that my hard drive had bought the farm.  However, after all those mistakes and many more I’m ashamed to share right now, I heartily disagree that they should be considered failures. The way I see it, the only time you truly fail is when you don’t try. Every other case is just an unfavorable or unplanned learning experience.

"Always make new mistakes." - Esther Dyson

I would wear this on a t-shirt.

Last winter, I got a phone call from the CEO of a company that I have had a great relationship with for the past couple years. She was in the process of starting a side project and wanted me to develop her web site.  I jumped at the chance and got started right away with what was to be a masterpiece. That awesomely beautiful web site was built and launched and I was over the moon about the work my team did. This morning, I met with a lawyer since the invoice for that beautiful web site is now five months late. Although I did skip the proposal/deposit process I once had reserved for first-time clients, I can’t say that I failed in any way. I learned a lot from the experience and can now rest assured that I know how to deal with that situation in the future.

So we now know the difference between a “mistake” and “failure”. I’m sure that, at this point, you want your five minutes back. But I’m getting to the point, which is this: appreciate your mistakes and realize that no mistake is a failure as long as you can learn from it. The next time you make a mistake, embrace it. Figure out how it happened without chalking it up to luck. It’s the same thing you would do with success, right?

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.


  • cbrancheau says:

    I think making mistakes is part of the job description of an entrepreneur. It is how you respond to those mistakes that creates all the difference. Great thought positioning, when it comes to how we sit when looking at our challenges, Patrick!

  • Dean says:

    I agree with your post. I’ve always called my mistakes failures and I now will make sure I change the way I use the word “Failure”. I’ve always embrassed my mistakes and tried to learn from them all. I’ve always told myself and friends that it’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you do not make the same mistake twice.

  • Steve Orris says:

    “Always make new mistakes.”

    I love that. Maybe I will put that one a shirt.

  • I love the phrase you used — that a mistake is an “unplanned learning experience”. The information I gather from my mistakes is useful! It makes me more informed and more experienced over time. There’s always something I can learn and I like that.

  • Gayle Buske says:

    What a great post! If an entrepreneur isn’t making mistakes then they aren’t trying anything new. And if they aren’t trying anything new then they’re bound to fail! Great insights! Thanks!

  • Janice Clark says:

    Hi Patrick, this is so true! One of my favorite quotes is by F. Wikzek, “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.” Great post! Thanks for sharing your insights!

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