The lessons learned technique

Many years ago, I was part of a lovely fast-growing tech company worth millions. Then I was fired, unemployed and wondering what on earth had happened to my life. That’s the short version.

Here’s what happened next. You might find it handy next time something disastrous happens.

Sitting under a tree

I had lots of time on my hands since I didn’t have a job any more. So, I used to go to the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh a lot and hang out there.

lessons learned

It’s beautiful, and it’s free, which is great when you’re suddenly unemployed and sad. I found a particular group of trees, a ring of redwoods which became my spot to go to and feel safe and think.

That summer, I did a lot of writing so that I could get all my confused feelings out. I ended up taking part of what I was writing and putting it into a special section of my Filofax. You can pretty much tell that this happened in 1999 when I say that I had a Filofax and a PalmPilot.

That section was headed up “Lessons Learned”.

The point of the “Lessons Learned” section

Most of what I was writing was just a jumble of self-pity and “why me?” along with a lot of anger towards my one-time business partners. But the lessons learned section was incredibly useful.

I still keep my notes from that time, and I’ve carried on writing down lessons I’ve learned. The list from that time included things like:

  • Never try to run a company which is undercapitalised


  • Remember that people turn weird when large sums of money are involved



  • Be glad that you didn’t invest your house in this, cos it wouldn’t have saved the business, and you’d be homeless now

And the big one

  • It’s only money. You can always earn some more money.

These are valuable lessons I’ve used dozens of times since then, in my businesses and by sharing these with my clients in my business advice sessions.

Lessons learned doesn’t have to be for the big things

I’ve continued with my lessons learned section, and nowadays, it lives in my bullet journal planner. Here are some recent ones:

  • “Balancing your laptop on a fruit bowl does not work. Buy a laptop stand” From my trip to Berlin in the summer when my Zoom calls were a bit wobbly and my desk was less than ergonomic.
lessons learned
  • “Getting up early is only beneficial if you start doing things when you wake up. Otherwise, it’s a bit depressing”. From noticing my change from a night owl type to a skylark type.


Why this is useful

The lessons learned technique is helpful in a couple of ways.

Firstly, it takes those negative emotions like, “aargh, I’ve lost everything I’ve worked for”, or “this bloody Airbnb doesn’t have any books to balance my laptop on” and transforms them into a neat package of something useful.

This takes some of the negativity away, leaving you better equipped to deal with whatever joke life is playing on you.

And writing down the lessons learned helps to stop you from making those mistakes again. In fact, you can see that many of these translate into things to do. Or things not to do.

Here’s the lovely laptop stand I bought, and here’s how to get in touch if you want to talk about the many many lessons I’ve learned over the years about how to manage cash flow in a business.

How I help

My work is all about helping people with small businesses to build and develop bigger, stronger companies. It’s all about helping people to make more money, and have more fun.


lessons learned


Here are some ways I can help you and your business:


Photo credits to 85fifteen from Unsplash, Jul1_en on Flickr, Skylark by Neil Smith on Flickr and Vervate.