It’s a mistake to try to avoid each and every mistake.
In fact, it’s not a good idea to attempt doing things right the first time, every time. In todays light speed economy, (“new” economy and “old” economy) if you don’t fall on your face both regularly and painfully, you are likely to end up dead in the water. The only people not making mistakes are those living their lives without much risk or novelty and I would say – without any noteable progress. If you can’t accommodate or even reward failure – in the long run, you cannot succeed.
Why? Doing things wrong, is the number one – perhaps the only – source of innovation.
David Kelly, CEO of design firm IDEO, says,
“…enlightened trial and error beats the planning of flawless intellects…The reason is simple: the best solutions to most problems are rarely the most obvious.”
James Joyce said it poetically,
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Think about it. What did you ever learn by doing something right the first time?
IBM’s rumored motto about mistakes is legendary:
Fail Faster. Since the road to success is paved with failures, the faster you move through them, the faster you might find a way which works. Don’t prolong the agony, get it over with quickly, learn the most you can, and move on.
IDEO’s Kelly says it succinctly,
“we fail faster to succeed sooner.”
World leaders and scientists have wonderful legacy of being wrong in a big way. Edison’s tolerance for “mistakes” is renowned. The European “discovery” of America was a mistake. Even the invention of Teflon was a mistake.
If you are in the surgery business or fly airplanes for a living, you may not want to make any mistakes. But for the rest of us – especially if you are in a technology business – doing things wrong is prerequisite to doing things right.
As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.”
So, in the spirit of failing quickly, here are a few ideas and tips for you to try out. Some will work for you. Others will not.
You’ll just have to try and fail.
Don’t penalize yourself, encourage yourself to make mistakes.
How about rewarding them? Create a bonus for the most brilliant (or most flagrant) mistake of the month. Put risk-taking mistake-makers’ faces on your website or in your newsletter. Many companies say they encourage mistakes, but really intimidate and punish the mistake-makers. As soon as you begin to do that you foster a better-safe-than-sorry attitude. Instead, put your money where your mouth is.
Use rapid prototyping.
This technical-sounding phrase simply means doing things quickly without trying to get them into final form, making mistakes and swiftly fixing them. Get something up and running – anything that resembles your desired solution. Then fix what isn’t working. And fix, and fix, and fix. This may be the best way to do product development in Internet Time, also known as creative trial and error.
Don’t cast blame – commemorate your mistakes .
When things go wrong, do you sound a hunt for the guilty? One of the reasons mistakes go undetected – and progress slowed – is that people aren’t willing to take “credit” for their errors. Rather than calling attention to things which are off course (and risking their careers), they prefer to bury them for as long as possible.
Use the concept of a “breakdown.”
When your car breaks down, do you blame the driver, or do you just fix the problem? When a project or a process is veering off course, treat it like a breakdown. Rather than spending time deciding who did what wrong, do this: restate where you are, where you want to go and figure out what will get you back on track. During the Iran Contra Scandal, President Reagan intoned, “Mistakes were made.” There was no admission of guilt. No fixing of blame. Perhaps we can learn from this brilliant locution.
Forget about total quality and zero defects in the beginning. You can’t afford it, especially in this day and age. Think of the 80/20 rule, or extend it to 90/10. There is a level of quality beyond which “mistakes” are a viable economic alternative. Unless the outcome of your product or service impacts life or death, the cost of perfection cannot be justified. Use the errors you generate as opportunities to improve your production process and practice great customer service.
Remember, the hallmark of progress is making mistakes.
What mistakes have you made recently and what have you learned from them?
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