Mistakes & Failures Are Learning Experiences

Need to create an environment where mistakes/failures are learning experiences. If organisations and people are afraid of failures and intolerant of mistakes, this leads to a culture of risk aversion, lack of creativity and discourages thinking that leads to breakthrough successes. In this environment where there is more of performance-focus rather than a learning-focus, people will tend to hide mistakes/failure. Remember: a high failure rate is a hallmark of a creative genius; the most successful creative people have the greatest number of failures (Fiona Smith, 2010s). For example, Edison conducted around 700 experiments while trying to invent the electric light bulb.

"...I failed my way to success..."

Thomas Edison as quoted by Fiona Smith, 2010s

. With failures/mistakes it is important what you learn from them and grow as a result. Also, you can learn from others' failures. The learning experience is a stepping stone, ie

"...Instead of experiencing it as a post-traumatic stress, they experienced post-traumatic growth. And they didn't let a good crisis go to waste..."

Tal Ben-Shahar as quoted by Fiona Smith, 2010s

"...Most mistakes contribute to organisational and personal learning, they're an essential part of experimentation and a prerequisite for innovation..."

Amy Gallo, 2010

"...The best kind of mistake is where the costs are low, but the learnings are high..."

Paul Schoemaker as quoted by Amy Gallo, 2010

Some guiding principles on handling mistakes include

i) Admit your mistake quickly in a non-defensive way (this includes how to correct the mistake; focusing on the future, not the past; understand what factors are external and beyond your control; realise that we have the ability to manage outside circumstances not under our control.)

ii) Change your ways (explain how you are going to change your ways as a result of the learnings from the error; need to respond quickly before people make judgments about your competence or expertise, ie

"...You need to get on top of it, get ahead of it and deal with it......how you can translate the mistake from a liability into an asset..."

Christopher Gergen as quoted by Amy Gallo, 2010)

iii) Use your support network (ask for help and advice on how to handle the situation you're your network both internally and externally

"...healthy support networks have 3 components: authentic trusting relationships, a diverse range of perpectives and is reciprocal..."

Christopher Gergen as quoted by Amy Gallo, 2010)

iv) Get back out there (need to re-build your confidence and not be afraid of experimentation, ie

"...mistakes are not signs of weakness or ineptitude; recovering from them demonstrates resilience and perseverance..."

Amy Gallo, 2010

Many organisations look for people who have made mistakes and have learnt from them.

v) Not all mistakes are equal (it is easier to recover from group mistakes as there is a diffusion of responsibility; if the mistake involves breaking trust, it can take time to heal the consequences and get forgiveness)


Some dos

- accept responsibility for your role in the mistake

- show that you have learned and will change your behaviour

- demonstrate that you can be trusted to make important future decisions


- be defensive and blame others

- make mistakes that violate people's trust as these are the toughest to recover from

- stop experimenting or feel inhibited because of a mistake


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