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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

June 21, 2012

To Err Is Human

By Patrick Donston

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Did you ever hear the phrase, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted?” It means that a person who has failed often knows how to avoid future failures. I’m pretty sure I will not avoid future failures, but I have learned from some of my mistakes. I thought I'd share with you some of them.

1. Hiring with experience
I’ve always strived to have a knowledgeable staff that is easy to train. I learned a long time ago, hiring with experience comes with potential “baggage.” These candidates are more inclined to do it their way and are less likely to follow my ideas or protocol. They usually come at a higher pay rate. I’ve found hiring for enthusiasm, compassion and a good work ethic is better. We can teach them fishkeeping skills. I’ve also learned to ask myself, “If they’re that good, why aren’t they still where they were?”

Making a mistake is a learning experience
Good people are found, not changed.

2. Medication before evaluation
Now, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this: Using formaldehyde, copper or any other medication before finally discovering that a low pH or ammonia was the problem. It’s like I’ve stated before, “A fish’s external environmental must be at optimal conditions before any source of recovery will help.” Someone once asked me, “How do I know so much about fish?” I told them I learned from killing a lot of fish.

Check your gravel beds, and test your water before medicating.

3. Relinquishing an idea before trying it again
The best example I can relate is marketing ideas. A promotion should follow three basic steps:

  1. The idea
  2. Strategy and implementation
  3. Work the kinks and try it again

I’ve revisited failed attempts in the past with greater success after thinking it through. I’ve found myself saying, “I wish I would have stuck with the plan years ago.” Social media is another great example. It works, it just takes smart use.

4. Thinking manufacturers—or for that matter anyone—know best
I’m not trying to say information and advice are bad things. Opinions should be taken wisely. I’ve learned to be skeptical of the pitch for a sale. I prefer learning from a source where there is a common cause; multiple groups benefit, most importantly, my customers. I have to make decisions that make sense to me. They have to benefit my staff and our clientele. If my gut doesn’t feel it, I’ll go another direction. I like a saying I once read, “Let the views of others educate and inform you, but let your decisions be a product of your own conclusions.”

Making mistakes isn’t a bad thing as long as we learn from the experience. Our experience is often the most valuable thing we have to offer.


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