Not making a mistake might be the greatest mistake

How many mistakes have you made in your life? If you are like most people, it will be impossible to count them all. Mistakes are a natural part of life. We make them all the time. If you choose to acquire a new skill, you will have to accept you will make a lot of mistakes on your path to mastery. At some point, you have also probably made a mistake at work. It could have been as simple as placing the office keys on the wrong hook. Perhaps you took a decision that in hindsight ended up not working out as you had envisioned. Or you made an estimate that ended up being wildly off the mark.

The only people who do not make mistakes are those who choose to not try anything new. Mistakes are the price we pay in our bid to acquire making experience. Yet so many people go out of their way to avoid making mistakes because they don’t want to look stupid. This fear often comes down to a few factors such as:

  1. How mistakes you made as a child were treated by your parents and teachers. Were they viewed as a lesson opportunity or were you punished harshly?
  2. The environment where you work. Are people given an opportunity to own up to mistakes and grow or is there a blame culture instead?
  3. How secure you are in your skills and position? A person with high feelings of insecurity might go out of their way to hide their mistakes or try and pin the blame on someone else.

Regardless of reason, you would learn a lot more if you (and your organisation) changed the way you look at mistakes. Mistakes are not an effective indicator of a person’s potential. They only show where a person is now.

Jack Welch, began his career at General Electric as a chemical engineer. A mistake he made blew up a factory. Fortunately, no one died in the process but losses must have been huge. Jack Welch drove to New York to explain how he was responsible for this mistake. In his mind, he probably expected to get fired. Luckily, for him, the person he was sent to meet at Headquarters was Charlie Reed, who like Welch had a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering. Rather than excoriate Welch, Reed guided him to accept responsibility for his actions, explain how it happened and plan how to make sure something like that never happened again.

Building on fire
Is your mistake really as bad as this?

Jack Welch eventually rose to become the CEO of General Electrics and showed great leadership during difficult times for the company. If Management had chosen to act differently, the mistake would never have served as a learning opportunity for Welch and GE would have lost an excellent future CEO.

Fortunately, many of us don’t make mistakes that cost our organisations millions of dollars. The point is even if you do, running away from it or trying to put the blame on someone else is not the answer. Yesterday is gone but you still have today to make a better tomorrow. Don’t beat yourself up for that mistake you made. Instead, learn from it and grow.

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