Opinion: Why entrepreneurs need to learn from their mistakes more than their successes

By James Caan, CEO Hamilton Bradshaw

One of the questions I always get asked when I first meet people is what does it take to make someone a great entrepreneur?

If everyone knew the answer to that then the whole country would be full of self-made millionaires working for themselves in thriving businesses. We all dream of being successful but it is hard to say exactly what sets natural business people apart from everyone else.

Recently I was asked to become Chairman of a new Government initiative called Start Up Loans, which aims to give 18 to 24-year-olds practical and financial support to build their own business.  Attending the launch of Start Up Loans at Downing Street were various ambassadors from business who are all taking part in the scheme, all of which are successful entrepreneurs in their own right.

The ambassadors come from different walks of life and backgrounds but the one thing they all have in common is the fact they have built up their own business up from scratch.

I’ve always said that the key to being a successful business person is that you have to have passion and drive and above all a real appetite for risk. No one has ever become truly successful or created a great business by playing it safe.

Of course you have to be prepared to put in the hard miles – everyone who owns their own business will tell you that it is a lot of hard work. The difference between working for yourself and for someone else is the fact that ultimately, you will care more than anyone else around you about the business.

But you also have to be prepared to take risks and accept the fact that you will make mistakes along the way. The key is not to fall into the trap of believing you always have to get everything right.

Just this week, for example, I was working on a new TV programme and was using an autocue for the first time. To be honest I was terrible at it so we stayed there for hours, but we got there in the end. I just kept trying until I got it right.

Over the years I have been involved in a lot of companies and from my experience, I believe the only way you can learn how to do something really well is by trial and error.

I recently carried out a performance review of one of my senior managers and I gave him an overall score of seven. The guy asked me why I had not scored him higher and I told him that he had not made enough mistakes in the last six months.

I realise that may sound perverse but I actually believe that if you are not making mistakes then you are playing it too safe.

However, his response to me was the reason there had been no mistakes was because he was great at what he does. He has got a point of course!