Why you must always learn from your mistakes

Unlike many baby boomers, I have had a number of careers. I think I am on my sixth or seventh.

Most people in my generation have had two to three jobs in their lifetimes. This next generation is expected to have six to seven, with at least three career shifts before they graduate into their as yet uncertain retirement. Imagine. Along the way I have had many successes, and just as many failures. Let me tell you about my favorite epic fail.

I had the good fortune to work for the University of Akron Research Foundation — career No. 4. Two crazy retirees convinced me to join them and cut my salary in half  — we were a not-for-profit with a mission to change the world. Among other things, we got into the beer business. ROOBREW Fine Craft Beers started in 2009.

We jumped in with both feet — the excitement of our new endeavor carried us along with huge smiles on our faces. And right out of the gate, we did everything wrong. We got into the business for emotional reasons.

We didn’t do our homework. We underestimated the level of regulation. We believed that our partners in the supply chain would do everything they said they would. We could not have made more bad decisions if someone had given us the script for failure. We closed our doors in early 2013.

I learned much from this failure. But do people truly understand and appreciate what failure can teach us? Our Midwestern culture is steeped in the traditions and beliefs brought here by our immigrant forebearers. We take hard work and self-sacrifice for granted. And we see failure as just that, failing.

Conversely, the West Coast has a culture that not only accepts failure, but embraces it. You don’t earn your seat at the table at many companies unless you have failed, at least once, and it’s best if you have a few under your belt. They see it as a necessary part of the learning process.

Steve Jobs didn’t get it right until his third try. By almost any measure, Thomas Edison should have been branded a failure. Warren Buffett doesn’t talk about every time he was right, he tells stories of what he learned when he was wrong.

The lessons I learned from my epic fail, and the many non-epic ones too, help me when I work with entrepreneurs and corporations today. I understand how to evaluate risks, what doing your homework means, the importance of understanding and being able to count on your partners.

Try this the next time you are looking for a new employee. Tell your human resources people to find someone who’s failed a few times. That’s somebody who has earned their scars, learned valuable lessons and like you, won’t make the same mistakes again. ●

John Myers is entrepreneur-in-residence, director TA2 at the University of Mount Union