Creating a Mistake-making Policy


Integrity isn’t perfection, its better.

During a hospital stay a nurse turned off and neglected to turn on my pneumatic leg pumps. (Devices designed to help prevent blood clots in the legs of trauma patients. Hospital staff called them SCUDS)

She removed them about 3 a.m. so I could get up. When I returned, she put them back on but didn’t hit the switch. We were talking; neither of us notices. She left; I fell asleep.

About 6 a.m. another nurse came in to check on me. I was awake when she noticed the SCUDS. She hit the switch and left.

An apology:

About 6:30 a.m. a forgetful nurse came to my bed and said, “I messed up when I forgot to turn on your SCUDS. I’m sorry.”


It’s sad when people ignore or cover their mistakes. Perfect” people can’t be trusted.

On my team:

My forgetful nurse was qualified and experienced. I was never in peril. My activity level made the SCUDS precautionary.

If I ever need a nurse and I hope I don’t, I’ll ask for the forgetful one. 

Dumb leaders:

Dumb leaders sacrifice mistake-makers. Creating sacrificial lambs:

  1. Invites disloyalty and dishonesty.
  2. Stalls risk taking.
  3. Stagnates ideation.
  4. Honors ignorance.

Smart leaders:

Smart leaders maximize mistakes and honor integrity.

Stop hiding mistakes; publicize them – especially your own. Uncovering the dirty secret of mistake-making creates rich invigorating environments where:

  1. Backstabbers and liars run.
  2. Employees trust each other.
  3. Customers trust you.
  4. What ifs are possible.
  5. Freedom empowers.

Wasting mistakes makes mistakes worse. If you can’t make a good mistake, you can’t be trusted.

Great organizations figure out how to be wrong in the right way.


What does a useful mistake-making policy look like?


More on mistakes: I asked Jack Welch about a tipping point in his life and he told me about blowing up a factory. “How Blowing up a Factory Changed Jack Welch


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