Don’t be afraid of mistakes

Fear discourages innovation and creativity.

Has anyone ever congratulated you for making a mistake? No? Then it’s about time. I would like to congratulate you! Keep up the great work. And continue to do so. Making mistakes shows you are not afraid of trying new things. You have to push the envelope to learn and grow.

I visited an aerospace company in the US, where one of the engineers said, “Our team is expected to make no mistakes. Mistakes in this industry are very expensive and everyone knows that from day one.”

This intrigued me, so I asked, “If I worked here, I would be so afraid to make a mistake that it would be hard for me to deal with this nervous energy. What do you do to take this fear away from people?”

The executive team looked at me somewhat puzzled and the owner said, “An interesting question… I never thought about it but I guess people have to learn to function in this kind of environment.”

But do they? His response raised more questions.

Is it enough for people to only “function” in a work environment with such high demands? Will it discourage people from communicating a new, perhaps brilliant idea because it might go wrong? If the team feels fearful about making a costly mistake, will its members risk exploring different options and opportunities?
What would it take for them to ask themselves, “Is there a better and more effective way of doing things?”
Are the processes there to be followed or to be improved upon?

How we deal with people who make mistakes determines whether the work environment is one of trust or fear. In an environment of trust, the only question should be, “What can we do to prevent it from happening again and what have we learned?”

People deal with mistakes differently. Carol Dweck, the author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” suggests they have either a fixed or a growth mindset.

Those with a fixed mindset perceive mistakes as failure. As a result, they may never want to try again.

People with a growth mindset are more motivated to get it right. They don’t take no for an answer and strive to get better by learning from the mistake.

Sensible performance goals in companies are critical to help people understand what’s important, but it’s key that the numbers are not more important than the people. An obsession with metrics and a world view that says an employee is only as valuable as the sum of his or her numeric goals, are signs of a fear-based culture. Confidence will decline, which could result in more mistakes.

An environment of fear does not encourage innovation and creativity.

As a long-distance runner I find this saying to be very true, “No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch.” Applying it to mistakes, it doesn’t matter how many you’ve made, you are still ahead of the people who aren’t trying.

Here’s to a new outlook. Mistakes teach us to become better. Move forward step-by-step, look back but only to reflect.

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