Don’t fear failure; embrace its lessons. We are challenged by a shifting industry, but technology will help us map what’s ahead.

We all make mistakes. And this is how we learn, how we grow as individuals and professionals. The lessons learned from our errors can put us on course for higher levels of success.

However, case studies drawn from Greenway Group consulting engagements have shown me that learning from mistakes is not always common in professional practices. There are, in fact, levels of qualitative responses to the lessons we take from mistakes. That is why I recommend that you ask the questions What am I learning? and Am I learning enough from this situation I am experiencing?

Some people recognize their mistakes and then quickly adjust. A lesson learned can be empowering, energizing. No, not necessarily without heartache. But those who take missteps as a path to growth understand that a failure can serve as a needed kick onto the correct course. Following failure, new personal and professional growth can flourish.

Others, however, will repeat the same errors over and over again. Their failures can become chronic and debilitating.
This has me wondering why it is that some people are so responsive to mistakes, learn from them, make adjustments (that are sometimes painful), and develop new habits that keep them clear of repeating the same mistake over again. And while some people dig themselves out of the hole they’re in, others insist on shoveling, entrenching themselves deeper into a pattern of failure that exhibits an immunity to change.

It is the constructive habit patterns that define the more successful individuals in our professions. Strength and determination are required for us to grow beyond existing habit patterns. Good habits are essential to achieve success. Negative habit patterns become self-made traps. If you take time to think of people you most admire, you will likely be shocked by how many experiences of failure they have had to overcome.

What brought you here won’t get you there is a statement that reminds me that shifts are necessary to spur us toward change. And often, the push to make a shift comes from working through a mistake. The architecture/engineering/construction industry has transformed a lot in recent years. And these changes are accelerating. It’s no wonder that the best architects, engineers, designers, and contractors are feeling a sense of urgency these days along with a little uneasiness. The context in which professionals operate is shifting.

We are being challenged to figure out the evolutionary path that is the smartest. Technology, it seems, offers some clues.

Technology evolves

Will it be evolution or revolution? Both, actually. The shifts in industry context are bringing us new tools with new visions. Some of this will lead to what we call “red ocean strategies” that are disruptive to our current processes and protocols. Embracing disruptive technologies and processes is always uncomfortable. But it is sometimes of critical importance to future success.

Reflect with me on the past 10 years. There has been staggering change. Ten years ago, we didn’t have flat panel TVs in the mainstream of entertainment. Google was just getting noticed as a tool. We didn’t have the iPhone or BlackBerry. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter? Not much of anything there — just a few hints at tech conferences. But much of what we did have is now gone or will soon be gone. Yellow pages, classified ads, video rental stores, telephone land lines, cameras with film, incandescent light bulbs, personal checks, analog TV. And compare the automobile you were driving 10 years ago to what you are driving today. We have lost some and gained a great deal on the technology front.

The recession we are currently in is not an economic indicator of the future of the A/E/C industry. Innovation will advance, and with innovation will be plenty of growth for architects, engineers, designers, and construction managers. However, much that has been standard, like in the above examples, will be gone or different.

Think of yourself as a leader of your own destiny and as the navigator of the many puzzles that you will face as the future unfolds. Make the most of the times we are in.

Here are five action steps that will go hand-in-hand with the survey results in this issue. They are all related to fast and significant technology changes ahead. All guarantee that you will be able to optimize your time, your focus, and move closer to the constancy of learning from mistakes and victories. And the good news? Over time, your experiences will trend more in the direction of the victories.

  1. Never stop learning and never quit. Don’t let mistakes take you down emotionally. Own them by leveraging the lessons learned through your errors. Grow from them.
  2. Absolutely use a smart phone and take initiative to be connected. Leverage communication technology.
  3. Expand your network and be relevant in new ways. If you must decide between attending a professional association meeting or one attended by your clients, go network with clients.
  4. Develop your own personal brand as a solution provider and thought leader. Embrace new technologies in each of your professional strengths. If it’s new and offers value, get it.
  5. Update and clarify your values and live in alignment with them. Constantly renew your goals, and sign a personal commitment contract.

Keep thinking ahead of the curve. When you see the big picture, you will likely also see the big opportunities. While we all make mistakes, make sure that you keep learning from your failures as well as your successes. Keep your own strategic plan alive. With this foresight, you will be able to recognize and react to signs of change that others don’t see — and win a sizable competitive advantage.

James P. Cramer is the founding editor of DesignIntelligence and co-chair of the Design Futures Council. He is chairman and CEO of the Greenway Group, a management consultancy and strategic foresight firm that helps professional practices and industry organizations navigate change to add value and to outperform peer benchmarks.