Chef Gordon Ramsay on Never Making the Same Mistake Twice

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I loved a recent New York Times article about Chef Gordon Ramsay, including this part:

“Ramsay said that when he makes a mistake, he owns up to it. He has been candid about the misjudgments that led to the closure of Amaryllis, his fine dining restaurant in Glasgow, and admits that he has opened restaurants that were “badly conceptualized” or opened in the wrong area. “You should never be embarrassed of failure,” he said. “But never make the same mistake twice.”

That's easier said than done. It's one thing to mistake-proof a process in manufacturing or healthcare. There might be a clearer root cause to be addressed through mistake-proofing countermeasures.

But when we've made a bad decision, how do we ensure that we're learning and not repeating the mistake. If we've “badly conceptualized” a restaurant (or some other business), we need to learn instead of giving up. Not trying again is one way to never make that same mistake again, but I'm sure that's NOT what Ramsay means.

Many of my guests on the “My Favorite Mistake” podcast have told stories about not making the same business mistake twice. One who comes to mind was a chiropractor, Kelly Henry, who failed with his first practice, but became very successful the second time, thanks to lessons learned from that first attempt.

As I shared in my book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation, I think this set of reflection questions can be helpful (and I credit the firm Value Capture for teaching me this).

  • What decision did I make?
  • What did I expect to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What do I learn from the gap?
  • What would I do differently?
  • What would I expect to happen?

As I wrote in the book, “Answering those questions helps us focus on learning from mistakes instead of shaming ourselves or others for them.”

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Mark,

    This article first caught my attention from Gordon Ramsey in the title, but when reading I really agreed and related to many of the points you made.

    Learning from your own mistakes can teach you so much more than succeeding the first time. Facing advisory is important to understanding yourself and your capabilities. I’ve heard NFL coaches say they aren’t too upset when their undefeated team losses a game in the regular season, as it builds character and forces the players to feel new emotions they haven’t felt after wins, which makes them into better players.

    Some may be afraid to attempt and possibly fail, but it will teach you more than if you never tried.

    Also, the post self assessment is impactful as you really slow down and understand yourself which may allow you to see something you didn’t before. I recently took a quiz in a class and forgot one term and was upset about it, but the next week I had the same question and it was the first term that appeared in my head.

    On the other side, what do you think the most important thing in succeeding the first time would be?

    • Thanks, GD.

      “On the other side, what do you think the most important thing in succeeding the first time would be?”

      I think there are, broadly speaking, two types of mistakes:

      1) Process mistakes
      2) Innovation mistakes

      I think Ramsay was talking about innovation mistakes. I think we have to expect and even invite mistakes when improving or innovating. But I think what’s key is using SMALL mistakes to learn and adjust so we can prevent BIG mistakes.

      When it comes to process mistakes, those are something we should work hard to prevent, through mistake-proofing, standardized work, and other Lean concepts. But when mistakes happen, we need to react in ways that are kind and constructive, focusing on learning and improvement, instead of punishment.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Really insightful post about how lean and mistake-proofing are incorporated into our daily lives when we may not know it. Gordon Ramsay’s analysis of his poorly placed restaurants which could have failed for a multitude of reasons, shows that he has introduced a level of mistake-proofing to his work when I doubt he was aware of referencing lean while he did. A large takeaway I got from Chef Ramsay’s comments was the fact that the first step in his process has to be owning up to his mistakes. Not letting his ego get in the way by blaming the failure on somebody else is crucial to being able the analyze the situation from a bigger perspective.

  3. Hi Mark,
    I really appreciated reading your piece about Chef Gordon Ramsay’s philosophy of accepting failure and growing from it, particularly in the fast-paced restaurant sector. The notion that success frequently emerges from lessons gained is reinforced by Chef Ramsay’s emphasis on accepting responsibility for mistakes and avoiding embarrassment in the face of setbacks.Your reference to the chiropractor, Kelly Henry, highlights a powerful example of someone who turned a setback into a stepping stone for future success.
    As you mentioned, these questions help shift the focus from shame to constructive learning, which I as a student currently starting my green belt lean project need to remember.While mistakes are inevitable, what distinguishes people and organizations is their dedication to learning from them and moving forward. I appreciate you sharing these thoughts, and am looking forward to reading more of your material.

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