Remember: It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

By Marty Parker

Everyone makes mistakes – it’s a fact of life, and one of the best tools we have as leaders to promote learning and growth for ourselves and for our teams. Why then, are so many of us afraid to make (or admit to) mistakes when it comes to work?

I recently had the chance to speak with Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of O2E Brands, about what he’s learned about culture and leadership as an entrepreneur. The big take away: as leaders, we can’t be afraid to fail.

The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the full conversation here.

Marty Parker:
Maybe we can start with the culture that’s been built at O2E Brands. Discuss the culture that you’ve built there and a little bit about how you’ve built it.

Brian Scudamore:
Maybe I’ll start with how I got to discovering the importance of culture.

Back in 1994, five years into my business, I had 11 employees. We were about a half a million in revenue. Small business and growing. And I realized I wasn’t having fun, any longer, running my own business. I had these 11 people, and they say one bad apple spoils the whole bunch, I think I might’ve had nine bad apples, and it was time to make a change.

So I had a morning meeting. I brought everyone in and I started with two words. I said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’ve let you down. That I might not have brought on the right people or given you the love and support you’ve needed to successful here in 1-800-GOT-JUNK?.” The only way I knew to deal with it was to start again. So I laid off my entire company and I remember that next day I learned a valuable lesson when I realized a company is all about people. Finding the right people and treating them right. And that became the cornerstone of our culture.

We would forever on, and we’re not perfect, we’ve made mistakes, but forever on focus on finding the right people and really treating them right in our family of brands.

Marty Parker:
So what’s your role today in the culture of O2E Brands?

Brian Scudamore:
Yeah, so we have a model we call two in the box. And so there’s Erik Church, our president, there’s myself as the CEO, the founder, and we’ve divided it into two. We call it the visionary and the implementer.

So I get to be the visionary. Thinking big ideas, starting new brands, cheerleading our culture, getting PR and so on. And then Eric is the implementer. He loves executing. Okay, what’s the vision? What are the plans? Let’s go, go, go. Accountability, rigor, discipline, building out the team and building out the team of our people with the care to the culture that we have in place. So while Eric and I are very different, this two in the box is almost a yin and yang model that works so exceptionally well together, and I get to do everything I love every single day, and Eric gets to do very different things but the things he loves every day.

Marty Parker:
Brian, what does the role of high performance mean at O2E Brands and how have you managed to kind of take the connection between focusing on your people and building exceptional culture, and high performance within your teams?

Brian Scudamore:
I think high performance, it makes me think of a Formula 1 race car. Right? What is performance? It’s about winning. You want to cross that finish line first.

And so in our business, it’s setting clear goals and objectives. It’s defining for our franchise partners what’s winning to them. What are their goals and dreams? Whether it’s buying material things or building their teams or growing an empire in the painting business or house detailing business or whatever it might be, it’s understanding that performance … that those goals are different to different people. And then it’s just figuring out how to turbocharge everything we do through culture, through vision, to ensure that we actually make those goals happen.

Performance is something where … you mentioned a WTF, willing to fail culture. We try to empower our teams that you’re going to make mistakes. It’s okay. Don’t repeat them but learn from every single mistake. Every failure is a gift. Find out what you can do differently next time and what we can learn so that we can perform at even higher levels as we grow.

Marty Parker:
In your book, “WTF, Willing to Fail,” you talk about failing upward. So tell us what that means and why you think so many leaders today, and also future leaders, are really afraid of failure?

Brian Scudamore:
Well, no one wants to get hurt. Right?

I think of my middle daughter who, years ago, was learning to ski, like my kids all do, and she comes back and she’s kind of like, “I just keep falling and I don’t like it and I’m getting cold,” and the whole bit. And I said, “You’re falling. That’s awesome. Like that means you’re falling, you’re learning and figuring out how to get back up and get better.” And I said, “All people in all walks of life, you fall, but you take it as a learning moment.” It’s not fear of the falling and getting hurt, it’s embracing that and going, “Okay, so what would I do differently next time so that doesn’t happen?” And she went to ski school that next day and came back and she’s like, “Dad, guess what? I fell today.” And it was more of a celebration and now she’s turned out to be a great skier.

And so that analogy, real life sort of anecdote is I think people are afraid of getting hurt. They’re afraid of bruising their egos. They’re afraid of looking bad, making a mistake…  The most common question I think I get asked at the end of a podcast or an interview is, “What would you do differently? What would you say to your 18 year old self the day you started the business?” I wouldn’t do anything differently. I needed to make all those mistakes so that I could get to where I am today. And I will make more mistakes. I’m not done making mistakes. This is about a continual process of learning. And I can look back at things like the mistake of firing my entire team and me failing my leadership. I had to make that mistake to learn what culture was all about and the importance of finding the right people and how to treat them right.

Marty Parker:
One last question for you, Brian … what’s the one piece of advice that you’d give someone who’s looking to start their own high performance journey as a leader, whether it be an entrepreneur or as a professional manager, leader, but what is the advice that you would give that person?

Brian Scudamore:
You know, and this probably won’t surprise you, but be WTF. Embrace a willing to fail culture.

The way I feel I have learned as a leader is by making mistakes. It took a lot of courage for me to fire my entire company. It took a lot of empathy and compassion to admit to them it was my mistake and that I was sorry. It took a long time of reflection to figure out how was I going to find the right people and who did they look like?

And so, in this world where so much is changing … I mean, I can even think of right now, Black Lives Matter movements. A lot of companies went out there and posted really hardcore on social, insane, like we support it. This is what we’re about. We chose not to post and got a lot of flack from our company … from many in our company and I said, “We’re trying to understand it first. We’re trying to understand how we feel and get the discussion going internally before we go out externally.” And so I think, as a leader, be willing to make some mistakes and get some backlash from people, and then figure out how you have to adapt, and figure out how you need to learn from mistakes or, intentionally, think about the future and the decisions you’re going to make.

And be brave. Leadership is not easy. You know that. We all know that. Make some mistakes but, when people hear you have the vulnerability and own up to mistakes, and that here’s what you’ve learned and you won’t repeat it, I think that’s all people expect from one another. Be real. Be transparent. And it’s an exciting opportunity.