Home   About the Project   Participants   Join the Project   Team
Best-Selling Author Scott Berkun’s Biggest Mistakes

August 7th, 2013


Scott Berkun is a best-selling author and a professional speaker. He has worked at Microsoft for 9 years and with Automattic, the Creators of WordPress.

Scott authors a popular blog where he has posted over 1400 posts since 2003. One of the blog posts talks about his biggest mistakes he has commited in his life.

I figured this would be a great fit for this ‘My Mistake’ project. I have taken one of his mistakes to highlight here.

Not staying with the same boss/group.
When I was there (’94 to ’03), after a long stint on the IE team, I jumped around Microsoft every couple of years, putting my curiosity and passions ahead of climbing ladders. I wanted a diversity of experiences – I had four job titles in nine years at Microsoft – but this made it harder to get promoted and, in some cases, to earn respect in the MSFT culture. The advice I give people often is pick your manager first. A great manager will negate most other work problems, whereas an awful manager will negate most other work pleasures. Good managers get promoted and often their best people rise with them. For what I do now, my diversity of experience is an asset, but my career at Microsoft suffered for it.

To read his entire list, visit his website.

Not Taking Quick Decisions is a Mistake
Nandan_Nilekani Nandan Nilekani
Co-Founder of Infosys
August 7th, 2009

Biggest mistake? Everyone  of my mistakes has come from not taking a decision quickly and at the right time. Whenever I have moved decisively and done something it has worked. Whenever I have postponed or procastinated, I have gotten into a deeper trouble.  I think being quick and decisive at the same time doing those desicisons that sound judgemental is very key on an ongoing basis.

Question: Any specific examples and lessons learnt?

I remember in 2001 when we had the crisis of the IT boom going out, I think we should have moved much faster, I mean,  I should have moved faster on reacting to it.  In the first 10 years of Infosys we could’ve been more ambitious. It took us almost 12 years before we took off.  I think we should have done that much faster.

About Nandan Nilekani:

Nandan Nilekani is the CoFounder and ex-CEO of Infosys Technologies. Nandan currently serves as the Chairman of the new Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).   There’s more about Nandan in this Wikipedia article about him.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

One Must Respect Competing Views
Ilkka_Raiskinen Ilkka Raiskinen
Senior vice president,Nokia
August 7th, 2009

I really don’t know what to  single out as a big mistake or failure. I think for me, personally,  its always about trying to understand other people’s views. You know when something sounds strange the customers really get deeper into the feedback and have lots of competing views about how the world evolves. Understanding that your view is just one opinion among many and is as such not important is a very vital lesson.

Ilkka Raiskinen is Senior Vice President for Context, Advertising, and Emerging Markets in Nokia’s Services & Software business unit.
Before assuming this role, which took effect from 1 January 2008, he was Senior Vice President for Multimedia Experiences, where he led the unit that was responsible for planning, creating and implementing consumer driven experiences. The key experience areas are mobile photography and video, mobile music, mobile computing, digital home, Internet, mobile TV, media to-go and games.Raiskinen joined Nokia in 1994, and held various positions including Senior Vice President, Entertainment & Media Business Unit, Vice President, Business Development, Europe, and Business Development Manager. Ilkka Raiskinen has been working in the area of mobile services since early 1990’s.Raiskinen earned his Master of Science in Engineering from the Helsinki University of Technology.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Only One Cook Can Cook the Best Soup
Devndra_kumar Devndra kumar
Marketing Head Nokia, India
August 7th, 2009

 I learnt my biggest lesson when in my previous company, I actually  combined two brands  into one as a way of synergizing them. In a quest to  cut down the number of brands and focus on one, we decided to take two  brands which were operating in two diverse fields and make it one. Sure enough,  after a period of one and half years, the consumer feedback was that it was not working. The lesson that i learnt is  you need  to be more externally oriented and work from a  consumer point of view rather  than  an internal company point of view.The good thing is that now both the brands are successful.

The second thing is that i wanted to be an air force fighter pilot but I lost out. My eyesight was weak and I needed glasses. I started my career all over again and learnt not to give up. There are various ways to achieve things. Excitement for life restructured my thinking and lifestyle and i learnt to move like a fighter plane pilot in the marketing profession.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Sree Shanth Ho Gaya
Sreeshanth Sreeshanth.S
Indian Cricketer
August 7th, 2009

Most of the time everybody gets small failures. I think for me, the period when i was not able to play because of a hamstring injury in 2003-2004 was a pivotal moment in my life. I was 19 at that time, and like most youngsters I thought I knew everything and that I could rule the world. I was good, but I realized that it takes much more to be succesful than just running and bowling fast. During that period I learnt that if you stick to what you want to do in life and hang in there, you will reach your destination. I kept a realistic four year goal of returning to the Indian Squad, and managed to get there by 2005.

After that,  I did get sidetracked with various things, but I always had my dad to steer me back on the right path. As my dad once said ” Sri, I know you are a big Indian cricketer now, but always look ahead, there’s always scope for improvement. Always try to better yourself”.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Day I Almost Hired a Terrorist
taylor Paul Taylor
President of Environmental Solutions & Services
August 7th, 2009

Paul Taylor, president of Environmental Solutions & Services, Inc., Urbana, Ill., can relate.

“Since starting our business in 1995, my biggest mistakes have always involved hiring decisions,” says Taylor. “A bad hiring decision can set your company back months or even years if it is a key position. The hiring decision that sticks out most in my mind, is the first time I ever hired anyone. I had done all of the work myself up to that point.”

So, Taylor ran an ad in the newspaper, and scheduled interviews with 15 people.

“Two people showed up for their interview,” he says. “They were best friends, and I hired them both to work at the same building. They seemed like nice guys … Why should I check their employment history?”

After about six weeks, the customer contact called Taylor in to his office. He informed him that a police investigation had been conducted as a result of some missing checks that had been cashed for more than $7,000.

“They had our employees on camera at the bank, cashing the checks. Needless to say, the employees were arrested, were fired, and forced to pay restitution,” he recalls. “Amazingly, our customer did not cancel the contract. In fact, we are still providing services there today. However, it was not good public relations, and I never could use them as a reference.”

The company has changed significantly since 1995. Since then, Taylor has been much more selective in the hiring process.

“We had two employees then, and we now have around 130,” he says. “Many of our employees work in situations where they are not supervised a good part of the time. We are very careful in filling these positions with people who have a solid, proven work history. We perform thorough reference checks, and criminal background checks. We hire, on the average, one out of every 15 applicants.

“I have also learned to never hire in a hurry. It almost always comes back to haunt you. We still hire untested employees, as I feel it is our duty to help those who have not had the opportunity to develop a good work history,” he continues. However, we always place these individuals in a supervised environment, until they have proven themselves. We still make bad hiring decisions now and then, but it’s not from a lack of doing our homework.”

The above article appeared in CleanLink.com and authored by Stacie H. Whitacre and Dan Weltin


To Grout or or Not to Grout
bill-friske Bill Friske
President of Friske Building Maintenance Co (FBMC)
August 7th, 2009

Unfortunately, sometimes mistakes come with costly consequences. That’s why Bill Friske, CBSE, president, Friske Building Maintenance Co. (FBMC), Livonia, Mich., does not hesitate to tell this story. He wants to keep others from making the same expensive error.

In the early 1990s, FBMC was hired to clean a manufacturing plant’s ceramic-tiled lobby floor. While the tile itself cleaned up fine, the grout was especially dirty and still required more attention.

“As most contractors know, grout is one of the toughest cleaning challenges we face. We used every cleaning product and tool we had, but could not clean the grout,” says Friske. “That’s when the customer suggested we use muradic acid on the grout. [The customer] had recently used it on the grout around his tiled swimming pool with great success.”

Friske followed the client’s advice, and purchased the muradic acid. After taking safety precautions such as using personal protective equipment and allowing for proper ventilation, the crew went to work. The grout cleaned up well; so, the crew packed up the equipment and locked down the facility for the weekend.

“The following Monday we received a call from the customer that the elevator door was now ‘bronzed’. The same was true for picture frames, window-blind hardware and door hinges. A number of computers were destroyed. Seems that their internal components had corroded,” says Friske. “It turns out that the muradic acid vapors had gone airborne and were drawn into the building’s air handling system. We failed to account for that!”

The chemical misuse caused $80,000 in damages. But Friske’s troubles were just beginning. The insurance company would not cover the damage because airborne vapors from cleaning products are considered air pollution. Most policies exclude air pollution coverage unless specifically requested at an additional premium, says Friske.

“Many months and a few court dates later, we settled with the insurance company, but it wasn’t a happy ending,” he adds.

It didn’t take FBMC long after that experience to get the necessary training to deal with difficult grout in a safe and non-destructive manner, says Friske.

And, at least in the end, the expensive mistake did leave Friske a bit wiser.

“If you don’t have the necessary knowledge or proper training to provide a difficult or dangerous service — get the training first or sub-contract the job to a contractor that does,”

Friske advises.

I Let My Ego Get in the Way
no-photo Paul Greenland
President of Aetna Building Maintenance in Columbus
August 7th, 2009

Paul Greenland, president of Aetna Building Maintenance in Columbus, Ohio, believes his biggest mistake was letting his ego get in the way of servicing a frustrating customer.

“The customer kept changing his expectation/specifications and that made it difficult to manage to an end result,” he explains. “We were never on the same page about the price/quality ratio.”

But, instead of negotiating patiently, with proper service in mind, he let his ego take over — and it drove the account right into the hands of a competitor. The customer got fed up and switched contractors.

“I forgot that the customer isn’t always right, but they are still the customer,” he recalls. “After a month of reflection and self-evaluation, I went back and apologized for letting my ego get in the way of servicing the account and not listening to the customers needs. The new company’s service wasn’t so great.In fact, it was terrible compared to us, and the customer was so impressed that I apologized, he gave us the account back.”

Now, Greenland checks his ego at the door, and his company has much higher account retention than before.

“My job is to always be the customer’s advocate — sometimes even against my own company,” he says.

The above article appeared in CleanLink.com and authored by Stacie H. Whitacre and Dan Weltin.