Learning from mistakes

530making-learning-from-mistakes_jes_egan_creative-womens-circle By Jes Egan

I’ve made some errors in my career, believe me. Some of them I’ll call mistakes; some of them I’ll call a steep learning curve that took many directions (not always upwards); and others I’ll blame on my madly creative upbringing (at least one of them has to be someone else’s undoing!).

Although at the time most of these mistakes were either painful, stressful, financial or just pure embarrassing, I don’t look back at them in as much horror as I probably felt at the time. Because making mistakes aren’t always a bad thing. Yes, the dictionary definition of a mistake is something misguided or wrong in the context of what it was intended, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. Maybe, just possibly, a mistake can that intention into a new (maybe better) direction or as a result you might simply know what to do differently in the future.

Mistake: not understanding a creative brief Lesson learned: let the experience go and re-do the work (paying careful attention to the client’s needs/wants this time and next)

Perhaps you have spent hours (or days) working on a project, to then sit with the client and realise before anything is said that you’ve made a mistake in the direction or misunderstood part of the brief, and that it’s back to the drawing board. The heart sinks, the fear pops it’s little head up, and then there is the frustration of ‘I should have asked this question/not assumed that/clarified their needs’. I’ve done this enough times now to know that these feelings, although totally genuine at the time, will pass and I’ll get something out of this experience in the future. I will think about it again, in time, when I’ve processed and I will learn from it. Sometimes an experience like this lead you somewhere you may never have got to before and sometimes it’s just extra work (that you will have to do. For free.). My importantly, hopefully you learn how to better understand a client’s wants and needs for a project before diving head first into the solution.

Mistake: under-quoting for a job Lesson learned: ensure your quotes are always detailed and that the client is aware of what is covered and what is not

I know that I’m not the only one who has made mistakes when putting together a cost estimate for a job. Simple things, such as not including enough detail about the tasks to be completed, or quoting a ‘fixed price’ and not telling a client when they increase the scope from the original brief the price will increase. These are easy mistakes to make. (Once, when I was starting out in the advertising industry, I was tasked by my boss to put a quote together. Before sending it to the client, I consulted with a senior member of staff to check the numbers added up and that there was an appropriate amount of detail. The thing I didn’t explain to the staff member who kindly checked it was the full brief detail, which I also didn’t put it in the quote. The next day my boss told me the quote I had sent should have been closer FIVE TIMES what I had estimated. Way off track. Fortunately for me, I had a great boss – and client – and they agreed to let us resupply the quote that better reflected the project brief. Phew...).

This is where a mistake can put you in a poor (or even dire) financial position. If you work for yourself, this is often the part that can hurt the most. As I’ve written about before, when it comes to quoting, the devil is in the detail: be very clear about what is included and not included in the cost, it allows you to more successfully negotiate more when it is needed.

Mistake: Saying something silly Lesson learned: It’s good to have a laugh at yourself sometimes!

A few years ago now I was sitting in a big creative ad agency meeting. There was much discussion and different ideas flowing, everyone was on a different page. To end the meeting and action everyone into gear (as was my job), I said, quote, ‘Let’s all go and get our pigeons in a line’. To which everyone went silent and the copywriter (naturally) said, ‘Jes, I think you’ll find it’s “let’s go and get our ducks in a row”’. Yep. That was where I was trying to go with it.

I am notorious for getting my metaphors wrong and just as I think I’ve got them all straight, I let another doozy slip and there I am again, back to the beginning. (That one I’m going to connect to my madly creative upbringing, because I heard a family member do just the same thing recently, to a metaphor that I have in the past been corrected on, and it made me smile).

Mistake: Making an error in your creative work that can’t be ‘undone’ Lesson learned: Adapt to the change in direction and see where the work goes from there

These days, my creative work sees me spend many hours cutting intricate designs out of paper. While I try to me methodical (and careful!), in the past when I’ve cut something vital out of a work, instead of a total ‘re-do’, I ask myself – ‘Did anyone else know that was supposed to be there? Nope? Well, what they don’t see they won’t miss”. I always continue with what I’m doing and find a new / different direction, which might not be what I initially intended, but I’ve found that being adaptable is sometimes creatively more challenging and rewarding at the end. However the nature of a commission means there is certain expectations, and this if I make a mistake is when my perfectionist self will kick in and it is a start again. But I don’t throw it out, I carefully put it away and one day I may pick up again and repurpose and reuse for something else.

Over my career thus far, what I’ve learnt from my experience (or lack of) is the pain associated to a ‘mistake’ at the time is sometimes worth it. We can’t always get it right the first time or be perfect in each and every transaction. And it is totally okay to not to be. I encourage you to think about the mistakes you’ve made, and consider how you can use them to find a new direction and earn from what you have done wrong. What doesn’t kill us just makes us stronger (or should I say, better?). I believe so.

Jes is a ‘practical creative’ and a very busy lady, doing the business in a digital agency, being an artist, a university lecturer, and small business owner who can creatively be found cutting up a storm at paperchap.com. Follow Jes on Instagram and Facebook.