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Experience Doesn’t Always Come with the Sunrise

“There is a difference,” I was taught, “between ten years of experience and one year of experience repeated ten times.”   I thought about this the other day as I contemplated the calendar change to 2011 and the fact that next year will mark my 25th year in practice.

Everyday it seems like I see too many examples of companies celebrating survival, rather than progress. We regularly receive letters adorned with “our 10th anniversary” ribbon stickers and see businesses using the phrase “since 1956” or some such instead of an actual message.   When I was a young attorney (maybe for ego’s sake I should say “younger” attorney), I was hoping to be made partner when the management committee told me instead “we’ve decided that you have to wait 3 more years before we extend an offer of partnership.”

Now, granted I was young – younger than any of the partners by a long shot – but I had just as many clients and generated more revenue than most.   “Why,” I asked, “does it matter how many more sunrises I see between now and an offer of partnership?” I urged them to give me something different such as a revenue, performance, or even billable hour target to hit. But no, to them it was time. To me, this made no sense.

One of the real values of seeing another sunrise is the ability to leave behind the mistakes and absurdities that had, no doubt, been a part of your yesterday. But equally as important, with the sunrise comes the opportunity to build on yesterday’s lessons. Sometimes that’s painful in business.

Print out your customer list. Not a list of your most active or largest. Print out a list of all of them. Don’t just read the names, ponder them. As to each, are they enthusiastic about your work or did you make a cringe inducing mistake? Were you late? Were you, perhaps, a bit less responsive than you should have been? Are they loyal to you or are they casting a wandering eye across the business landscape wondering if they can do better?

I have yet to find a business owner who, in his heart of hearts, can honestly say that he did right by 100% of his customers 100% of the time.

So here are the questions: What are you going to do about the failures? Are you committed to learning? Have you created a company culture open to improvement? Can you begin a lasting and productive dialogue about your failures? Have you ever conducted a bloodless autopsy – one with a mission of education rather than the identification of a scapegoat?

In other words, in 2011, what will you have learned by the sunrise?

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