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Successful Mistakes (Ep. 51)

Matthew TurnerIt’s good to make mistakes.

When I was a senior, I took a capstone Information Systems class where I had to build my own web app. I decided to apply my meager web programming skills to the task, and spent a few weeks building a very database-heavy app for waking up on time (here’s how I do it now).

Unfortunately, I screwed up; in my haste, I didn’t do enough reading to realize that, in addition to opening database connections in your code, you also have to close them. If you don’t, they stay open and start bogging down your server.

Throughout the entire build process, I kept refreshing the app, opening more and more connections. My server took the accumulating load like a champ and held up the entire time… until 5 minutes before I was supposed to present my finished app to the class.

At that moment, my server crashed. I didn’t have enough time to talk to the support team, and was forced to go through my entire presentation telling the class,

“Well, this is how it would work…”

In short, I screwed up. My presentation was an embarrassment. But, in building the app, I learned a ton about web programming. Yes, I made a big mistake – but I learned from it. Now I know much more efficient ways to communicate with databases – ways that won’t crash my server.

That lesson has helped contribute to the bank of knowledge about databases I have today – which in turn helps me understand the technology that runs my business. Unlike many people who run large websites, I have a fairly good understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the software that turns the wheels beneath this shiny veneer you’re looking at.

If you talk to any successful entrepreneur, you’ll eventually hear similar stories – almost everyone who has done great things has also made mistakes along the way. What can we learn from those stories?

My friend Matthew Turner wanted to find out, so he interviewed over 160 of them (including me). Over the past year, he’s gathered stories of mistakes from a wide variety of entrepreneurs and successful people, and he’s now compiling these stories into a book called The Successful Mistake.

In this episode, I talk with Matthew about the importance of taking risks and making mistakes, ask him what we can learn from them, and pick his brain for some of the most interesting mistakes he’s come upon during his undertaking of the project.

Things mentioned in this episode:

Wondering where the Resources of the Week segment is? I’ve decided to use the 80/20 principle to enable myself to focus my attention completely on the things that matter, so I’ve trimmed it – but worry not, because you can find all sorts of great tools at my Resources page.

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