As children, we’re raised to avoid mistakes. Eons ago, that was a good survival strategy, and to some degree it applies today. But not all mistakes are created equal. Some clearly would be life-threatening, while others are speed bumps.
A while back, I went to work for a fast-growing company that gave a short, clearly-written statement of the corporate culture to new employees at orientation. One of the 4 or 5 points it made was that it’s OK to make mistakes if you recognize them, take responsibility, and fix them. I remember being amazed that the “rules” were in black and white, but even more so, that the company took this approach to making mistakes! How liberating!
What that company, Octel Communications, created was an environment in which innovation was valued and encouraged. Yes, what you try may not always work, but pay attention and correct course if you headed off in a wrong direction. Octel was acquired 8 years after I started there for $1.8 billion. Clearly, they did a lot of things right!
When its OK to make mistakes, two things happen: 1) You free people from the excess caution that blunts creativity, innovation and experimentation. And , 2) people learn more than they would ever know had they not been experimental.
A few rules for trying new things:
* Test something new on a small scale. In marketing, we often run several small “pilot” programs in parallel and see which one is most effective.
* It’s OK to try the same thing again with small adjustments, but don’t keep making the same mistake over and over.
* Own up to a mistake to others. When the culture allows it, they’ll understand and move on.
* Reflect on what probably caused something to go wrong, and work smarter next time.
I often hear entrepreneurs say, “I made so many mistakes when I was starting my business!” The reason I’m interviewing them is that they are making a success of what they do, and a big reason they are successful is that they are willing to keep trying new things even though not all of them work.