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No Empty Mistakes

“If I only did things I was qualified for, I’d be pushing a broom somewhere.” ~ Naval Ravikant, CEO and Founder of AngelList

We hadn’t heard this quote back in 2014 when we decided to start the Happy Lobster, but we may have still taken the idea a bit too literally.  We were a Social Media Manager, an Admissions Director, and a Logistics Manager, and we were good at our jobs.  We were qualified for the eventual promotions or job opportunities that would come our way in the fields that we had chosen.  And yet, we took those qualifications and threw them in the paper shredder to open a food truck.  We weren’t long for pushing brooms, apparently.

We would excel, we told ourselves, because in light of our inexperience, we would pay attention to every detail.  We would avoid mistakes by being over-prepared.  That attitude served us incredibly well, but the mistakes, they were still coming.  Some were big.  Some were small.  All were unavoidable.

We had 2 trips to the ER.

We ran out of propane during an event hosted by a Food Network star.

We wasted product.

We burnt grilled cheeses.

We over-fried Mac & Cheese bites.

Our truck broke down on multiple occasions.

There were long lines.

There were longer waits.

And that surely isn’t everything.

As time went on, the issues weren’t necessarily less, but we started to get better at dealing with them.  We stopped working on avoiding inevitable problems, and instead focused on learning from each one.  As a team, the following motto was adopted:

All Mistakes Once, No Mistakes Twice, which we later shortened to: No Empty Mistakes

We didn’t open our doors and invite issues to come in, but we did learn to embrace them when they happened.  We perfected our menu items, formed new processes, built checklists that worked for us, focused on vendors we could trust, and stopped wasting our time with ones that we couldn’t.  Over time, each one of us grew as business operators based on the issues that we dealt with and we held each other accountable for not making the same mistake twice.  As a company, we became what author and professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined as Antifragile, which he defined as:

A property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures.

In other words – as sh*t happened, we got better.  No Empty Mistakes became the anchor of our Core Values at the Happy Lobster.  Today, we can confidently tell you that motto took us from 3 “unqualified” food truck founders, to an antifragile machine that has expanded to two states, been named one of America’s Top 25 Lobster Rolls, became the first food truck to ever be nominated for a Jchean Banet Award, and was voted as Chicago’s Best Food Truck.

In the end, we aren’t telling you to quit your job and dive into something without preparation.  You MUST prepare.  In fact, you must over-prepare.  Still, nothing can quite prepare you for fixing your water tank on the shoulder of Highway 1 as it spills towards oncoming traffic.  We’ve found that mentally preparing for mistakes and stressors and being ready to learn from them quickly becomes far more important than being prepared or “qualified”.

Last month, I (Alex), asked Tyler as we were cleaning up after a shift, “Is there any process that we do today that we did in our first few months of business?”

“Not one,” he said.

Just how we drew it up.