When it comes to doing well in business, looking at a situation frankly and learning from your mistakes makes all the difference. Karl James, former Downing Street adviser and Director of The Dialogue Project, explains why.
“I’m more convinced than ever that the answers to big questions are often much simpler than we think. And they’re definitely simpler than some experts, consultants and strategists might suggest,” says James. “It’s the people who do the simple things brilliantly, and the complex things simply, that get out of their own way, release the talent in their organisation and free themselves to get on with doing what they do best – be it banking or baking.”
Keeping things simple also means accepting where you’re going wrong, frankly addressing the problem, and figuring out how not to repeat the issue again, James says. “When it comes to conversations that count, in my experience it’s the businesses that aren’t afraid of admitting where they went wrong that learn more quickly and bounce back more confidently from a dip in performance, or a poorly guided strategy,” he explains. “This is even the case in the event of a right royal cock-up – in fact, you might say it’s especially the case in such scenarios. If you have the nerve to face up to the ugly truth, the courage to say what needs to be said, and the sense to listen well to the most informed voices, you can soon find yourself genuinely turning a corner in much better shape than if you’d narrowly escaped whatever storm it was that blew your way.”
Even when things are going well, taking stock of what’s working and what’s not helps companies to stay on the right track. “Truly understanding what you’re brilliant at is a rare quality. But you can only discover what your strengths are if you’re in the habit of reflecting; not for its own sake, but for the good of the next thing you do. And the next. And the next,” says James. “So, if what you’re working on now goes well, after it’s done, talk about why. And if doesn’t go well, after it’s done, talk about why.”
After all, says James, there is no such thing as a disaster – unless you fail to learn from it.