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Doing business entails risks, especially when agreements are negotiated across different cultures. Margaret Heffernan thought she could avoid certain misunderstandings, having been raised in Europe, but the knowledge she thought she had about European markets made her pushy. As a result, she came across as an aggressive American insensitive to Europeans' desire to build human relationships as a foundation for business agreements. Instead of moving past the mistake, she investigated her own behavior.

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Heffernan realized, nearly too late, that what matters is fitting the approach to the locale. She raised the issue with her company's leadership and what followed were important discussions on the team's sales focus. Thinking about the mistake as an opportunity made everyone smarter. "Almost all mistakes contain a lot of learning, if you're smart and humble enough to suck the juice from them," says Heffernan. "If instead you're inclined to cover them up as fast as possible, you miss the opportunity to learn."

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