Getting Smart at being Wrong

Whoever said, “Fail often, fail fast, fail cheap,” has my respect.

One challenge, however, is organizational expectations. Some within your organization have a low tolerance for failure. They choke creativity, stall innovation, and paralyze people. Why?

Mistakes cost:

  1. Decline in morale.
  2. Lost confidence.
  3. Opportunities lost.
  4. Underutilized resources.
  5. Misallocated resources.

On a positive note, learning is mistake-making.


Three grandchildren are spending a couple days with us. Occasionally, one of them will dig out two short pieces of soft rope and tie things up. They inevitably ask to tie me up and then I return the favor.

Last night I tied Asher tight enough that his only chance for escape was untying the knot. It took him several minutes but he succeeded.

“The only time you don’t fail is the last time you try anything and it works,” William Strong.

All leaders are problem solvers. Problem solving is mistake making with a goal.

Smart mistake-making:

  1. Watch for paralyzing frustration. As long as Asher kept trying I didn’t help.
  2. Is their progress. Eventually, Asher stopped using brute force and started using his head.
  3. Enjoy their new self-confidence and enthusiasm. Complaining that it took too long saps their enthusiasm. Brag that they kept with it for a long time. If it’s taking too long, step in. If it isn’t, stop complaining and start encouraging.
  4. Spend more time learning from mistakes and less time preventing them. What are we learning?
  5. Correct foolish mistake-making caused by neglect or misplaced urgency.
  6. Risk mistake-making on repeated activities; there’s less ROI on once and done events. Leaders determine when mistakes are investments.
  7. When possible, make mistakes on low profile activities.
  8. Repeated mistakes are unacceptable.
  9. Don’t tell clients you’re making mistakes; say you’re perfecting.

Bonus: Make your best mistake-makers lead people. The fearful seldom exceed average.

How can organizations get good at making mistakes?

What have you learned from your mistakes?

*No grandchildren were injured during the writing of this post. 🙂


Other posts on mistakes:

The Right Way to Be Wrong – “Don’t make the mistake of letting your mistakes defeat you.”

Top 20 Stupid Leader Ticks – A consistent favorite


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