Mistakes are achievements of which we must be proud

In my profession I have always dealt with many different people and companies. And I have always been fascinated by the people who have made decisions. Have moved „things“.

What make these people different from others? They deal with mistakes in a different way. You are less afraid of making mistakes. Just like that kid on the cover who just gets up after he falls.

Mistakes are something essential in our lives

Mistakes have accompanied us since our birth and we unconsciously do something with them. We learn from it. Scientifically, this is experience-based learning, which has a special feature. It requires a concrete experience with real character outside artificial learning environments.

 „You avoid mistakes by gaining experience. You gain experience by making mistakes. “ Laurence Johnston Peter

Evolutionary, this type of learning is a recipe for success that has led to gigantic progress in science and business.

In my view, one of the greatest advances in humanity is our increased life expectancy. In the last 160 years this has doubled and a good part of this is due to medical progress. Those who depend on this progress because they need an intervention to heal quickly research the best clinics with the most experience. Errors are made there less and the interventions are routine. But we forget one thing. Medicine is a practice-oriented empirical science. Hardly formulated to be able to do what it can do today, people have died because in the beginning mistakes were inevitable. The risk of mistakes has been taken in favour of progress. Mistakes with the ultimate consequence.

Why are we afraid of mistakes?

Mistakes have consequences. The word alone has a negative connotation. We learn at school that mistakes are punished. In examinations – also at university – the right thing is rewarded. In companies the achievement of the right goals is rewarded. We are shaped to avoid mistakes because we learn that mistakes feel bad.

In the short term this is right and sensible, in the long term it is important to focus on the learning effect. However, since our economic and social system is controlled according to short cyclical guidelines, the long-term perspective is losing focus. Many companies have now recognized that quarterly figures are too short-term targets, but they are also annual targets. In politics, four-year cycles are the yardstick by which to measure, but important decisions that could be right in the long term (e.g. the reform of the pension system) are unpopular in the short term and thus impossible.

These framework conditions ensure that mistakes are not rewarded, but punished and that the word consequence takes on a negative meaning. The compelling conclusion – nothing else means consequence – is that I am being voted out of office or failing to achieve short-term goals.

Consequence on the time axis

If I look at consistency on the time axis, the picture changes. What feels bad in the short term – like a financial loss – opens the way for positive change in the medium and long term. The experience gained makes change necessary. Not infrequently, financially unachieved goals are the reason for a change.

And this is exactly where I stand as a person, as an entrepreneur, before a decision. What do I change?

Anyone who merely focuses on the short-term optimization of financial returns will, as a consequence, significantly harm the growth potential of the company as a manager.

Those who focus on dealing with mistakes can sometimes be successful in the short term, very certainly in the long term. I have often seen people sitting in front of me in workshops who shook their heads with such statements full of incomprehension. People in management positions and management consultants in particular feel the pressure of not being allowed to make mistakes. After all, they are role models.

Satya Narayana Nadella (CEO Microsoft) saw himself facing exactly these problems and he had to introduce new products and business models at the same time. His solution? A „growth-mindset“ that encourages and rewards learning, trying out and making mistakes. The new products and business models required skills that the company did not previously have.

Azure is just one of these success stories from Microsoft. And by the way, the cultural change at Microsoft has added 143% value to the shareholders over the last 4 years. This is where Forbes writes about it, by the way.

Dealing with mistakes differently

I wrote at the beginning of this blog that I have found for myself that people who make decisions are less afraid of making mistakes. These people have a „growth mindset“ and some of them even have the talent to convey it to others.

The aim must therefore be to enable more people to make decisions. This includes complete transparency – in the sense of all available information, since complete transparency is by definition impossible – so that the basis for decision-making is given. On the other hand, an environment in which mistakes are seen as something good. As an opportunity to learn. The chance to evolve. True to the motto:

„Fail fast, fail forward.“

Here, too, Microsoft has consistently implemented the „growth mindset“ and believes that EVERYONE in the company can develop one. Microsoft wants to consistently tap the potential of all employees and sees this as THE task of the leaders even before the financial aspects. How this happens is briefly described in this Harvard Business Review article.

6 ways to deal with errors in a different way

Make mistakes entertaining

People learn best when something is fun. Fuck-up nights are a widespread concept in the USA. This is nothing other than an event where people stand on a stage and talk about their failure, their mistakes, with the goal that others can learn from it. Often there are very entertaining and from today’s point of view very successful people on stage. Start as a manager or entrepreneur leader. Be the first to break the taboo of talking about mistakes.

Fail fast, fail forward

Get away from the idea of working out a theme perfectly. Learn by trial and error. The method of design-thinking, with which I iteratively improve my solution, is ideal for this. Let whole teams work with it and encourage all employees to work in Pareto. This way you get results quickly and improve the result disproportionately in every iteration, because you learn from mistakes.

Make decisions

Not deciding or discussing things for a long time is the most expensive option for every decision. Take one of these decisions you’ve been putting off for a long time and decide on it today. You will feel how liberating it is to do something. By the way, we often know what to do, but cannot adequately justify it. If so, the limbic system in the brain has made the decision based on emotion. This is as important as factual decisions in neocortex. Learn to trust it.

Limit the damage

A thing of mistakes is that they can also become expensive. With all the known benefits, it’s a risk to take. The aim here is to minimize costs. This is best done by admitting mistakes quickly. Costs can be of a financial nature and of a much more important emotional nature. Apologize for your mistakes. It frees you and at the same time you become an accepted leader. In terms of financial aspects, see it as an investment in training. It is not without reason that we have to learn the hard way.

Make mistakes transparent for everyone – company-wide

Every employee has a right to learn and so does your company. Once the confidence that making mistakes leads to rapid learning is established, the learning success must be maximized. Find a way to find all errors and award the error of the month. Make it public and highlight the positive effect this mistake has for the future. However, it is also necessary to find a way to sanction concealed errors. Because in this way trust is broken and the chance to learn is denied. It only works as a team

Be a role model

Set a good example yourself and stand by your mistakes. It is a learning process that will itself be flawed because you will fall back into old patterns of behavior. That’s okay too. It’s gonna happen to everybody. But: practice makes the master and the task is to support each other and forgive mistakes.

We are getting better too

Ramona and I were and are often held up for this blog and that is exactly what we wish for. Only in this way can we become better and grow a bit with every blog we write. In the middle of the week before last we got such a mirror and it made a difference. Thank you very much for that.

One feedback we got often was this:

„I keep finding myself on your blogs. I know the problem very well myself, but I lack a way of dealing with it. Something to help me find a solution.“

Yes, we left you there alone. Also because we ourselves did not always have a clear picture and sometimes could only name the problem. However, the last few months have been so intense that we wanted to make progress ourselves and that is why we have developed a way that can help make work a place of productivity, fulfillment and joy for everyone.

We call this way: FLIGHT-Method

We already mirror this method with some people in order to learn quickly from our mistakes. Soon we’ll share it with you, too.

Take care and have a happy day


Published by

Chris Decker

Triathlon Coach der 2-fachen Ironman Siegerin Astrid Stienen. Lässt mit Leidenschaft Triathlon-Träume wahr werden.

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