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Robyn Greenspan Headshot

Go Ahead, Make a Mistake

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"Make something today, even if it's a mistake," is something a friend once said to me at the end of a phone conversation. Fear of making a mistake is sometimes the barrier to taking any action, but that also prevents any learning from happening too. And every lesson serves as a building block toward the next success.

It's been said that Thomas Edison counted all his unsuccessful attempts at developing the light bulb not as failures, but as many ways that didn't work on his journey to finding the one that did. Unfortunately, today's business culture is often not as forgiving, and definitely not as encouraging, of mistakes, yet innovation couldn't exist without failure.

"Perhaps part of the culture in this country is that failure is just not an acceptable outcome," said a manufacturing executive in one of ExecuNet's business Roundtables during a discussion about asking for help. "Certainly nobody seeks it, but the irony is that the only way to become experienced and enjoy wisdom in business is to have a healthy mix of successes and failures. We just have to minimize the impact of failure as much as possible and learn to pick it all up and proceed forward again after it does occur."

Occasionally making mistakes that help you or your business move forward is permissible; consistently making mistakes or making the same ones is a problem. Here are some tips to prevent getting caught in a "Groundhog Day" of repeating what's not working:

  • Review what went wrong -- not to assign blame but to understand where process can be improved.
  • Spend more time reviewing what went right and how to replicate the success.
  • Don't go it alone. If you're unsure, get feedback; if you need help, ask for it.
  • Mistakes live in the details of great ideas.
  • If you keep making the same mistakes and expecting different results, come to terms with reality and move on to something else.