In a conversation today the topic of mistakes came up, and it’s one I think we could talk about more (and I’ve done so in the past, I discover). It’s clear that innovating and improving requires experimentation (again, he who fails fastest, wins). Yet, you can’t celebrate mistakes, as it can send the wrong message.
I was reminded of a story I heard at the Creating a Learning Culture conference Marcia Conner was kind enough to invite me to. To reiterate the earlier post, a company celebrated not when the mistake was made, but when the lesson was learned. That’s stuck with me as a great idea that allows mistakes as part of an overall culture that says it’s ok to experiment, and we know you’ll fail occasionally, but learn from it. Piet Hein is quotable here: “The road to wisdom? Well it’s simple to express: err and err and err again, but less and less and less.” Just don’t make the same mistake!
My interlocutor recalled his approach, saying to teams: “I don’t mind small mistakes”, and that makes a lot of sense. I used to tell my team that I didn’t mind bad news, but I hated surprises. I like his approach better. Big mistakes are a problem, small mistakes are an investment in the future.
I mentioned corporate cultures I’d seen (in seemingly successful companies) where you couldn’t talk about mistakes. He recited his experience where when a mistake was made, they’d fire someone, and think they’d solved the problem!
So, another quote: “when you lose, don’t lose the lesson”. Find out why the mistake was made, how not to make it again, and make sure everyone learns from it.