07/16/2013 04:23 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2013


Everyone makes mistakes, and let's face it, nobody likes them. Ok, let me rephrase that. I think a lot of people like mistakes, they make good stories, but most people hate being in the middle of a mistake. After all, everyone loves a good story of someone accidentally ripping their pants at a black tie event or getting chased by a cow and losing their shoe in the mud. But, not all mistakes are created equal. There are mistakes that are just plain dumb, but there are the well calculated mistakes that are hard to avoid. Whatever the case is, we learn from them... and smart people learn them from others thus avoiding burning off their eye brows or sending valentines to the wrong person and getting dumped twice in a week.

Mistake against nature or laws
Ok, let's start with the mistakes that should be avoided at all costs. We won't spend too much time on it because, well, these types of mistakes are illegal, unethical, and should be, by simple virtue of their nature, obvious, at least to the majority of us. When it comes to this type of mistake, the best option is to completely avoid it. Have ethical standards from the start and stick to these standards at all costs, and, of course, abide by the laws of the land.

The dumb mistake
Yes, some mistakes are just plain dumb, no matter how much you learn from them. Dumb mistakes are the mistakes that happen when years of training go out the window over a moment of doing what you know you should not be doing. These are not the necessarily illegal mistakes, they are not always crimes, but they are things that you know better than doing. That does not mean they are without liability. This happens when you decide not to follow standard rules and procedures and a moment of laziness costs you, or your company, a bucket load of money and/or trust. These mistakes can be avoided. Dumb mistakes are mistakes that people make when they test probability. We won't give any specific examples here. But you get the picture of what could happen if you forget to check safety measures, skip an "unnecessary" step, or take a short cut.

These are the best mistakes to learn from others. You don't have to go through them yourself if you can see what has happened in the past of another person or company. These are the mistakes where wisdom, convention, and foreknowledge from industry experience come into play. It is helpful to have someone who is familiar with the industry to guide you, if you are new, so that you are able avoid this type of mistake.

Miscalculated mistakes
This happens when people make preparations and know the risks, but an important detail is missed. I think these are the mistakes that give us useful information. If you think about it, much of what we know as facts are based slight miscalculations. We create hypothesis, conduct experiments, and reach conclusions based on our testing of these hypothesis. These mistakes are the essence of inductive reasoning. Each mistake brings you closer to the correct answer. For example, Alexander Fleming, the one who discovered penicillin, is said to have discovered it by mistake. It was while he was washing out his Petri dishes that he realized the discovery.

Not all miscalculated mistakes end pretty. If the math doesn't add up right, it can be costly. While we learn from these mistakes, they can get us into trouble as well. Regarding miscalculated mistakes, someone I once met said that if you are not making a small mistake now and then, you probably are not trying hard enough and not taking enough risk. These are the mistakes that are sometimes hard to avoid. It helps when you have two sets of eyes to check over your work. At times there is only so much you can do in your capacity to avoid them.

Calculated mistakes
These are mistakes that are unforeseeable. You may do all the digging and analysis you can and everything looks good, but in the end it is a mistake. There are things that you may not have been able to calculate with the knowledge you have. Perhaps all the dots lined up to say go international, but there were things that you did not put into the equation because you could not have seen them coming in the first place.

Maybe you implemented a new strategy and you had no knowledge of a move that your competitor was going to make. Perhaps this move was costly to you, though everything pointed to making that move. These are situations where there was probably no real mistake in the true sense of the word, yet a mistake is seen in the public eye.

Prepare so you don't have to repair
Just as important as understanding the impact of the mistake is knowing the cause of the mistake. If you ask whether someone has made a mistake or not, they are deceiving themselves if they say they have not. It is always better to take necessary precautions to avoid mistakes before they happen or at least prepare for them. I believe it is wise to have a professional do a risk management assessment. There is no way to prevent all mistakes from happening, but at least knowing things to expect and what to look for can help you out in the long run.

What are your thoughts about mistakes? What did I miss?