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A smart person learns from their mistakes. A wise person learns from the mistakes of others.


Remember when the concept of using “other people’s money” to get rich became all the rage in the nineties?  There was even a movie with that title starring Danny DeVito. 

Well, I think using other people’s mistakes to your advantage might be even more beneficial to you.

In Business:

If “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it,” and “You learn more from failure than you do from success,” got together and had a baby, this quote would be it.

To paraphrase Michael Gerber from The E-Myth Revisited, eighty percent of small businesses fail in the first five years, but eighty percent of franchise businesses are still open.  Why is that?  His answer is systems.  I agree.

But what are the other mistakes most small businesses make that dooms them, often before they even open their doors?  Here are my top three:

1.  Setting prices too low/Competing on price — It’s a race to the bottom.  And, as Seth Godin says, “The problem with racing to the bottom is that you just might win. Or you might come in second, which is even worse.”

2.  Doesn’t address the market’s wants or needs, just the owner’s wants or needs — A guy and his wife dream of moving to the mountains and opening up a flower shop.  Nobody wants or needs a flower shop in their little mountain town, but the owners want to own one.

3.  Me-too marketing/No Unique Selling Proposition — “Quality, service and selection, all under one roof.”  I nodded off to sleep while I was typing that sentence.  Has it ever motivated anyone to buy?

Dan Kennedy’s question is still the best test: “Why should I do business with you verses any and every other option out there, including doing nothing?” 

Don’t open your doors until you have an answer.  If your doors are already open, develop an answer ASAP!

In Life:

We are problem-solving machines.  We love to solve problems — especially other people’s problems.  That’s a lot more fun than solving our own.

Don’t believe me?  You don’t see too many soap operas on TV nowadays, but there used to plenty.  When they ruled the daytime airwaves, viewers knew exactly what their favorite characters needed to do to fix their situation.  “Felicity needs to leave Conrad.  Blake needs to get off drugs.  Veronica and Chase need to get back together.”

The Jerry Springer Show, Maury and others have now replaced those shows.  But they’re all scratching the exact same itch the soap operas did for decades.  They allow the viewer to sit back and objectively solve other people’s problems.  Now it’s “Candy needs to leave Dale.  Ricky needs to get off drugs.  Shanna and Boyd need to get back together.”

Why is it so easy and fun to solve other people’s problems?  Because we have no emotional investment in the outcome, so we can see everything from a clear perspective.

That’s the key.  If you want to learn from others’ mistakes and apply them to your own life — bypassing years or even a lifetime of regret — get outside yourself and look in without any emotional investment in the outcome.

Pretend you’re on one of those daytime talk shows.  You’re sitting on the couch watching this other you on TV.  What would you tell you to do?  I’ll bet you already know the answer.

So remember…

A smart person learns from their mistakes.  A wise person learns from the mistakes of others.

— Unknown

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