How Blowing up a Factory Changed Jack Welch

I asked Jack Welch, at the World Business Forum 2011, to talk about tipping points in his life and he said, “I blew up a (GE) factory the first year I was there.” He was in his mid-twenties and figured his career was over.

“I was running a little pilot plant. It all exploded, went to hell.” (Pilot plant refers to testing. He experimented with a new formula and KaBoom.)

He went on to say, “I was called to New York because my boss didn’t know me anymore once I had that accident. So he sent me to New York to explain it to the higher-ups. I was thinking I was going to get fired. He called me in the room and asked me what did you do wrong. What have you learned.”

At this point, Jack’s tone and eyebrows rose. “He took the Socratic Method with me and did an incredible job of engaging me in learning about what I did wrong in the process. And I learned never kick anybody when they’re down. No one would ever say that I was soft by any means. But they would never say that I beat on anybody when they were down.”

Finally Jack added, “Tipping points (are) learning experiences from complete failures.”

When others fail?

  1. Learn. Those who know don’t fail. Those who don’t know, fail until they learn. Learning organizations embrace failure.
  2. Celebrate. Point out the good qualities that cause bad failures. For example, honor courage, curiosity, sincerity, and innovation.
  3. Encourage. Good people are hard on themselves. Encourage them when they fail.
  4. Explore. Was it taking too many risks? Dig into risk management. Was it overcommitting? Was it lack of resources or training?
  5. Discipline. Repeating the same mistakes calls for toughness.

How do you deal with others when they make mistakes?


More on mistakes:Creating a Mistake-making Policy” — Perfect can’t be trusted. Successful companies learn how to do wrong, right.