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The mystique of making mistakes

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” — Albert Einstein

“Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.” — Henry Ford

“The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Did you make any mistakes at work lately? Is there such a thing as making a good mistake rather than it always having to be bad?

One day, a chef named George Crum working at the Carey Moon Lake House in Saratoga Springs, NY, was honoring a customer’s request for thinly sliced fried potatoes.

The customer was hard to please, repeatedly sending the plate back to the chef wanting the potatoes to be sliced thinner and thinner. Chef Crum eventually lost his patience and sliced the potatoes so thin that they hardened after being fried.

Ironically, the customer enjoyed the fried potatoes so much he ordered more. Chef Crum’s thin-sliced workmanship had unwittingly created what is now known as a potato chip.

Errors can occur any time in any business. The fact is, it is not all about the mistakes but rather it is what is gained from them.

Nobody can anticipate or foresee what will take place every single day in the produce business. There are no two days alike. Whenever an error occurs, the skills and strengths to make an immediate recovery and not wasting precious time lamenting it are what is important.

Not all mistakes are bad. The following episode actually turned out to be positive, regardless of all the stress in the beginning.

I recall a woeful experience some years ago that turned out to be quite shocking to our produce operating team, as well as our stores. This incident was not only surprising, but it was embarrassing as well.

Our division planned a special promotional ad to be launched the first week of the month. We had worked on securing items with suppliers for weeks to be included in a full page for produce. After performing the necessary costs, sales and profit projections, we received our initial layout from the advertising department. The colorful page looked great with all the items, descriptions and attractive retails. After reviewing it, we gave the final approval to print it.

The day the ad was mailed to residences in all geographical areas of our stores, management received a copy as well. Upon looking at the produce page, something seemed odd to me.

I pinned it up on the wall, stood back and took a long look. Then it struck me: The produce items were listed in the boxes, the descriptions were correct and the photos matched all items, but there were no prices.

Somehow, the retails that were in the proof had disappeared in the final printed copy. This was a most drastic mistake made while performing a few last-minute adjustments on the computer.

The outcome was also a big surprise. After spending a day on the phone with each store manager explaining the situation and instructing them to honor our intended advertised retails, we got through this dilemma with a second surprise.

Ironically, we had an exceptional and successful produce sales week.

Here are four important ways to deal with mistakes:

Be responsible

Own up to mistakes that you may make no matter who is at fault. Do not try to hide it, as eventually someone will uncover it. It’s a lot easier to be out in the open rather than stress out. Talk to people about it and inform the boss right away.

Make no excuses

Justifying yourself and pointing fingers will only give you a poor reputation. Simply saying, “I messed up, and I’m sorry,” will be better accepted by others. If the mistake was overbuying a produce item for an ad, get over it and move on.

Don’t brood

Pick your head up and stop moping around. Complaining about how and why a mistake occurred is just wasting valuable time. It doesn’t resolve anything. Besides, it’s too late. As soon as an error is made, it’s history. Fussing over it won’t change a thing.

Move forward fast

The best remedy for mistakes is to accept them and move forward fast. Don’t carry mistakes on your shoulders for days at a time. The quicker you move past it, the faster you will make progress. Besides, you can always take steps to prevent making the mistake again.

Although we should always try to not make mistakes, there are times when they can turn out to work in our favor. Recognize the fact that many items were discovered by making mistakes, such as potato chips, corn flakes, penicillin, the pacemaker, plastic, vulcanized rubber and Teflon.

We may make mistakes at times and will probably frown over them. Let’s just hope that those mistakes will open doors to opportunities rather than negativity.

Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a member of the FreshXperts consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at, or check his website at