The Top 10 Business Mistakes I’ve Made

alone-513525_1280Here are some things NOT to do in business

A client read one of my blogs where I fessed up to something stupid that I’d done and suggested I create a top 10 list, so here it is. This was an extremely difficult exercise — not because I couldn’t come up with 10 or bare my soul, but because I had so many to choose from!

1. I once went into business with a guy whom I didn’t trust. It ended badly, cost me a lot of money and caused many sleepless nights. I didn’t listen to the little voice in my head!

2. This one should’ve gotten me fired. I left a voice mail for a peer, answering a question that he’d asked me. Then, in the same voice mail, I went on a rant about our mutual boss. My colleague only listened to the first part of my message and then passed it along to a distribution list that — wait for it — included our boss! My co-worker called in a panic after realizing what he’d done, just as I was about to enter a meeting with … our boss. Fortunately, my boss accepted my apology (I don’t think he’d actually heard the message, because it was bad)!

3. I could use this for the next seven, but I’ve too often feared failure and loss of face, causing me to slow down my success. If I could multiply by 10 the number of failures I have, I’d have 50 times more success!

4. Several times in my career I became emotionally attached to direct reports whom I shouldn’t have supported. Although I don’t often avoid conflict, I’ve let affection for people overshadow their business faults.

5. For a period, I put my work life ahead of my family. If you asked me, I would’ve said my family was first. If you looked at my behaviors and calendar, you would’ve said I was lying.

6. During that same period, I had occasions to broaden my experience (e.g., executive peer group invitations, board position offers, personal development opportunities) that I turned down because I was “too busy.” If I’d had a coach to force me to look at my values and think about my career in totality, I wouldn’t have made the same decisions.

7. Growing up in a home with a strict parent where humility was overvalued, I didn’t learn how to self-advocate until later in my career. As a mentor of mine says, “If you don’t blow your own horn, there ain’t no music!” Somewhere on the spectrum north of Mother Teresa and well south of The Donald might be advisable. It’s not enough (I now say to myself) to do good work. You need to make sure that you accept your success as well as failure.

8. When I was an executive at Kinko’s, we were a successful company focused on the college and small office/home office (SOHO) crowd, but we wanted to continue our rapid growth. As we started to get large jobs in our stores, I hired an extremely talented sales executive to build out a commercial sales program. But I didn’t think hard enough about the operational challenges of running big commercial jobs in retail environments (a bit like McDonald’s offering filet mignon!). We took corrective action, and many of my colleagues wouldn’t call this a mistake, but I didn’t stop to think through the unintended consequences.

9. I invested in two companies because I liked the founders, but I didn’t do enough due diligence. As you might imagine, the fact that I’m listing them here means that I didn’t get much of a return. I’d do the math for you, but the formula “zero divided by something” doesn’t seem to compute. Likewise, years ago I owned a couple of shares of Berkshire Hathaway (Class A shares) but sold them in 1995 because Warren Buffett was getting old.

10. I’ve worked with some brilliantly talented people whom I learned much from, but I only took the time to adequately thank a handful of them.

I think that’ll do!

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  • Jessica Hartung

    7:14 pm October 10, 2016

    Nicely done Todd, I can certainly relate!

    • Todd Ordal

      4:09 am October 11, 2016

      Thanks, Jessica!

  • Tom Holmes, CMC, CPIM

    10:45 am October 11, 2016

    Thanx for sharing Todd. Insightful as usual.

  • Keely

    1:07 pm October 12, 2016

    I love the lessons here. Thanks for sharing!

    • Todd Ordal

      1:25 pm October 12, 2016

      Thanks, Keely. If I can help one person avoid one of those mistakes it was worth sharing! Learning requires experience which is built on many mistakes–or even better on someone else’s!

  • Lisa Hamaker

    6:09 am October 13, 2016

    Brilliant Todd, as always. The way you write about them that helps us all learn. And, yes the mistakes too, because you learned from them. Here’s mine )that I have to constantly remind myself about), “I can’t do a good job if I am afraid of losing my job.”

  • Todd Ordal

    6:34 am October 13, 2016

    Thanks, Lisa! I had an old mentor who said that you should always think of yourself as self-employed so completely agree with your comment!

    • Lisa

      3:09 am October 14, 2016

      Even better! Thanks Todd.

  • Kristin (Dickey) Thielking

    1:15 pm October 13, 2016

    Well done. It’s a wonderful trait to be vulnerable enough to admit you’re human.

    • Todd Ordal

      1:45 pm October 13, 2016

      Some days I have a hard time getting out of the primordial ooze, but thanks, Kristin!

  • Brad Morgan

    11:42 pm October 26, 2016

    That took some courage to write, Todd. Good job!

    Two favorite sayings:
    Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.
    Experience is something you get right after you really needed it.

    I used to tell prospective consulting clients that I didn’t charge them for the successes listed on my resume. I charged them for the value of what I learned from the mistakes not listed on my resume. The scars were way more valuable than the medals.


    • Todd Ordal

      6:44 am October 27, 2016

      Thanks, Brad! Great to hear from you! I love your favorite sayings. Sometimes I think that I have more “experience” than I need!

  • Amy Reinhart

    6:26 pm October 26, 2017

    Thanks Todd, your insights are valuable.

    • Todd Ordal

      8:33 am November 9, 2017

      Thanks, Amy! As I said, it was pretty easy to come up with more than10, harder to cull this list…

  • Mike Kohm PT

    6:11 pm April 5, 2018

    great article!

    P.S. I think Mother Teresa was a strong advocate in her own way! A client of mine volunteered at her charity in India. Said she was a pretty tough Nun!

    • Todd Ordal

      6:13 am April 6, 2018

      Thanks, Mike. I’ll bet she was tough!