Making mistakes is a frustrating part of life. As much as we all want to be perfect, it’s nearly impossible to avoid small daily errors and the occasional big blunder. However, the biggest error we can make is not in the mistake itself; but in being unable to learn from it. Learning from our own mistakes is a painful, but important part of personal growth in both our professional and private lives.
We often harshly judge ourselves for our missteps and deny ourselves the credit for overcoming them. But to become better people, employees, businesses, or industries, we have to shift our attention to how we learn from our mistakes.
Mistakes Drive Innovation
Many of us see mistakes as inherently bad. While they can complicate our lives, they serve an essential purpose. Even Thomas Edison creatively reminded us that his setbacks were not mistakes, but learning tools that taught him how NOT to make a lightbulb. When it comes to errors in the workplace, many fear being viewed in a negative light. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when mistakes became equated with failure, but the misconception remains pretty prevalent despite the changing workplace cultures of today which strive to be innovative.
Innovation requires trial and error … but no one likes the error part. In fact, many people go to great lengths to hide their missteps. If we want to harness the positive power of mistakes, however; we must replace the culture of fear that drives such behavior with one of innovation. According to Gallup, such a culture, which comes with the expectation of errors, encourages employees to admit mistakes instead of denying them. After all, the quicker mistakes are acknowledged, the faster they can be addressed. And while embracing — even encouraging — errors in order to gain solutions, is a strategy that comes with risks, the rewards can be worth it.
Changing Our Perspective
Errors can be alarming in a business context, especially financial ones. A key step in modifying a workplace culture involves creating guidelines for how employees and leadership address difficult situations, including fixing mistakes. If you find yourself in a situation in which you’ve made a small or large error, here are a few things you can do to recover:
Admit to making the mistake.
Look at the mistake as an opportunity to find a creative solution. If an error is made that impacts a client, the books, or just you, own up to it without casting blame or making excuses. Identify the problem, communicate clearly to all involved, and get busy solving it to the best of your ability. If needed, bring in leadership or a more experienced peer to help resolve the issue.
Speaking of leaders, it can be especially difficult for them to admit a mistake. But according to Forbes, leaders who freely admit their errors garner more respect from employees than those who don’t. It’s okay to set the example that no one does things perfectly at all times, but how we adapt and resolve these situations means everything.
Focus on the growth, not the setback.
According to Winston Churchill, “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” Get into the habit of learning from every error, both to prevent recurrences and to learn how to overcome challenges. From a leadership perspective, admitting setbacks and focusing on growth means our experiences can be a teaching tool for others who may face similar situations. The goal is to take the steps necessary to fix the problem and not make it any worse through denial or delay.
Seek advice and help when necessary.
In an ideal world, all problems would have easy solutions. However, this is the real world; and we know that sometimes issues require multiple minds to correct them. Another reason to admit mistakes is that you can then ask for help. This openness shows others that you trust them and value their input. Such trust can be reciprocated going forward, and team members can learn from each other’s errors. In fact, if admitting a mistake is met with a “fix it yourself” mentality, it’s pretty clear that the business concerned does not have a healthy culture.
In short, mistakes need a makeover! As leaders, we have a vested interest in encouraging innovation. That means fostering a culture of innovation open to the learning that errors can provide. So as evidence mounts about the positive attributes associated with this type of culture, we would be wise to take a closer look at how our businesses respond to the inevitable mistake.
Looking for more tips on dealing with mistakes and creating a culture of innovation for your business? Check out these other ILSA articles!