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Don't Be Afraid to Shine the Light on Mistakes

Contribution by Andrew Webster, Director, Change and Innovation Solutions at ExperiencePoint


Ideas emerge, evolve, and come to life through mistakes. How do we make mistakes a better source of ideas?


It is a strange thing to be asked to write a guest post about mistakes.  Should I be insulted?  Is having failure as your recognized expertise a good thing?


Mistakes are simultaneously the best source of learning, and the worst way to learn.  Best because our most profound learning and most evident opportunities to learn spring out of our failures. Worst for three big reasons:

1. We can extract the wrong lessons from our failures.

2. Mistakes carry risk.

3. It often just takes too damn long.


Mistakes should teach us what ideas we should focus on, how to grow and improve ideas, and if we create the right conditions, mistakes following action should reveal new ideas that we could not arrive at through our best thinking.


Some thoughts on learning through mistakes:



Should you ask closed questions?  Here’s an easy one. If you are looking for binary results when trying something out (e.g. “will this work, yes or no?”), you will get your binary result (e.g. yes/no). If you ask something nice and open like “What happens when we…(create this condition; provide this incentive; remove this sign; etc)?”, then you leave yourself open to unanticipated results, lessons, and ideas.


Don’t sit on mistakes.  As you try out new ideas and inevitably screw things up, consider where that learning may be valuable. Is the learning applicable to your core offer? Who do you need to share it with? How will you evolve your idea as a result?


Fail cheap, yes, but do budget for mistakes.  This isn’t to say you want to invest big bucks into dead-ends. “Budget” here means that precious resource of time. If you’re making good mistakes early, you can implement much more quickly. But, implementation is often more than half of the time and energy commitment in any innovation process. Account for this, and expect that the first one third of your implementation time will be dedicated to idea evolution from mistakes. Too often project management excellence cheats us out of experimentation and pivoting time.


Remember, the only true failure is the mistake you didn’t learn from!


Guest post from Andrew Webster, Director of Innovation & Change Solutions, ExperiencePoint.


ExperiencePoint inspires new ways of thinking and doing that result in new offers, operational efficiencies, and increased customer and employee engagement. Their unique learning-by-doing approach accelerates the broad adoption of the techniques of world-class innovators and change leaders. They make innovation an instinct and change a reflex.