Whoever said they never made a mistake perhaps never tried anything! While success at work is often an outcome of how well you do your job, how you handle failure sets you apart and furthers career progression.
Some of the most powerful lessons in life are learned from our failures or in difficult times. After having tried and made umpteen mistakes, Edison famously said “I have not failed, I have just discovered 10,000 ways that do not work”. And when his factory was gutted by fire with much of the work still inside, he said “there is much value in disaster. All our mistakes are burnt and we can start anew”. While this is a matter of attitude, the learning that comes thru mistakes can hardly be under estimated.
Let’s face it – mistakes will forever be a part and parcel of our personal and professional lives. The key question to reflect upon is – what message does your organisation convey in the way it responds to mistakes. What culture do you create with your team by your attitude to mistakes made by colleagues. And also the lessons you can learn from your own mistakes and difficult times.
Let me narrate a small story of Thomas Watson Jr, a great leader and CEO of IBM between 1956 and 1971. He once summoned to his office a young executive who made some bad decisions costing the company a few million dollars. Upon entering the office the executive said ” I suppose after that set of mistakes, you will want to fire me”. Watson replied “not at all my friend, we just spent those dollars educating you”. A different matter that a subsequent innovation more than made up for those losses – but clearly it is impossible to miss the point.
Fear of consequences of mistakes will surely stifle creativity and the desire to innovate. Or even the drive to make things happen. Leadership is required to perpetuate an environment of tolerance and acceptance which then leads to the development of a free spirit. That has such tremendously positive results for organisations over the mid to long term.
Here are some tips to convert the mistakes that we all inevitably make to our advantage :
– planning ahead is such a good insurance – acknowledgement that things may go wrong and hence being prepared for them to the extent possible.
– taking responsibility, even when the reasons may not be directly attributable to you. This is a great one for creating team bonding and loyalty. Everyone appreciates people with a high degree of ownership and accountability. You are not a failure until you start blaming someone else!
– make the environment light with a touch of humour. Have a sense of perspective – focus on what you want to achieve and do not dwell on the mistakes. Dwelling reinforces mistakes whereas moving on gets you positive outcomes. Just keep moving – that is the best alternative
Remember that the greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.
And a word of caution – making the same ones multiple times, over and over again…..will not be such a good idea!