The past year seems to have yielded various waves of content celebrating making mistakes. Advancing the “failure at the heart of innovation” theme seems to have become a cause célèbre for the creativity and innovation set. Celebrating mistakes as part of innovation was the topic of a July Innochat on Twitter on innovation failure and, most recently, a Wall Street Journal article on “Better Ideas through Failure.”
I grew up with a clear perfectionist streak (or whatever term you would use to suggest whatever is deeper, wide, and more permanent than a “streak”), I wrestle with a gleeful attitude toward failure.
Yet between Kathryn Schulz’s TED talk “On Being Wrong” and recognition of my own experiences where learning from something that did not succeed as planned has led to much better future results, openness to errors clearly has its place in creativity and innovation.
However, I think celebrating mistakes in and of themselves is an easy banner for behaviors that don’t come easily to many people or many organizations, for that matter. It’s not so much organizations are celebrating failure as the willingness to move forward on efforts before everything is figured out and an appreciation for learning when something doesn’t go right.
Being Bad at Making Mistakes
What really needs to happen in an organization to benefit from an apparent willingness to celebrate and reward failure?
Instead of listing behaviors for celebrating mistakes (which I started to do but failed to complete), it’s much easier to list mistakes individuals and organizations make at making mistakes. Thinking through the personal perfectionist demons I’ve had to try (and still try) to slay, here are eight mistakes that can shut you off from productive failure:
- Being afraid of fear
- Not being able to manage or tolerate ample levels of risk
- Becoming easily embarrassed – either personally or organizationally
- Failing to properly frame and learn from experiments
- Being uncomfortable with unanswered questions
- Doing a bad job of making assumptions which allow you to keep making progress
- Focusing too strongly on too much detail
- Not being able to fix things as you go
Getting Good at Making Mistakes
If you can get past these eight, you’ll be a lot better at making mistakes that pay off in the future. What about you – what other mistakes at making mistakes have you encountered – in either yourself or others? - Mike Brown
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