Learning from Mistakes

Photo of HMS Hood taken on 17 March 1924.

HMS Hood

In wartime learning from mistakes saves lives. In peacetime learning from mistakes rescues projects, innovates, invents, and changes the fortunes of people and business.

The story of HMS Hood is well-known. It’s a story of human tragedy. It’s a lesson in leadership. And one of pride.

HMS Hood was the last battle cruiser built for the Royal Navy. Commissioned in 1920, Hood saw active service in World War 2 and was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck on 24th May 1941.

1,415 men died.

Sinking HMS Hood

Illustration of the loss of HMS Hood taken from original witness statement.

The Loss of HMS Hood

When war broke in 1939 Hood was employed in the North Atlantic as convoy escort. In 1941 she was ordered to pursue the Bismarck.

At 05:52 on 24th May Hood engaged Bismarck and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Straight.

Eight minutes later Hood was hit by the Bismarck. A shell penetrated the ship’s armour plating and struck the aft magazine. This was catastrophic. The ship exploded and was sunk within 3 minutes.

There were 3 survivors.

Learning from Mistakes

Following the sinking of Hood the value of the battleship was finally questioned. Regardless of their enormous fire-power and protection, battleships were vulnerable to smaller ordnance, aircraft and torpedoes.

Learning from mistakes was paramount to the Admiralty and British Government. They wanted to know why the pride of the British fleet sunk so quickly.

They wanted to know who was to blame. But they failed to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The facts were largely ignored.

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. – Aldous Huxley

Battleships were a national symbol larger than just their guns and armour. This very nature prevented the Admiralty from making rational operational decisions. They were worried that something was wrong with the ship’s design. They didn’t see a new age where the behemoth could neither run nor hide. And they only saw through their pride — recognising their mistake — as World War 2’s darkest tragedies unfolded.

Do you ignore or cover up mistakes?

Or do you learn from them? Does pride cloud your judgement?

Images public domain.

Last updated 20 June, 2015 6 CommentsShare the knowledge …


  1. says

    I am a firm believer in truth. If you hide something now, it will come along and bite you in the future. When running a Project, I ask my team to ensure they tell me the truth, no matter how bad it is. In many cases a mistake can be turned into an opportunity – just depends if you glass is half full or half empty. If you try to hide the mistake, it can escalate easily into a large uncontrolled catastrophe.

    Mistakes happen. We are only human.

    • says

      Thanks for joining the discussion Paul. And what you say is true. Deception is eventually outed so it’s better to be honest and own up to a mistake so something can be done. Ignoring problems only makes them worse! As ever, Martin

  2. says

    Hi Tristan

    I am a firm believer to expose my mistakes. Not only do I learn from them but also my staff learns from them. Since we have made mistakes learning lessons in our office pretty much all staff members will share their mistakes. It has really helped us in bonding and realizing we each are human and will make errors. Great article!

    • says

      Hello Tina, It sounds like you’ve built a great team. I suspect you have an environment of trust and openness where people are confident to say “I got it wrong this time.” Many organisations should learn from this. You cannot innovate and improve if you don’t change what is wrong. Thanks for the comment. As ever, Martin


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