In school, we’re taught that mistakes should be avoided at all costs. We learn that getting something wrong somehow means that we’re wrong as a human beings, that each mistake translates to a lower self-worth score. These dreaded slip-ups can be so hurtful that we learn to recoil from the very thought of stumbling, much like we avoid the hot stove for a lifetime after burning our hand just once.
Yet hiding from mistakes can be the biggest mistake we can make in our companies and careers.
The truth is, mistakes are neither inherently good nor bad. Instead of harsh judgment, we should look at setbacks merely as data. In the scientist’ lab, mistakes are expected and a necessary step toward progress. Musicians learn to play, and ultimately discover their voices, through countless blunders and gaffes. The most celebrated entrepreneurs made their mark on the world not by avoiding missteps, but by embracing them as mission-critical learning moments that eventually enabled their greatness.
I believe there should be a mandatory class in middle school called ‘Making Mistakes.’ The course would cover the beauty of experimentation, how to recover from adversity, the difference between a reckless and a responsible risk. It would shine a bright light on the often-overlooked risk of standing still, showing the trap of mistake avoidance. Students would learn that the biggest mistake of all is not trying and playing it safe. They’d come to see that meaningful breakthroughs are only realized through dozens of mistakes and subsequent course-corrections. Kids would build skills around setback recovery, and pivoting obstacles into progress.
With the rigidity of traditional schooling as the backdrop, we must change the mistake narrative as leaders if we want to enjoy sustainable success. We must create corporate environments where mistakes are not only tolerated but required. The message is that if you’re not messing up here and there, you’re not pushing hard and fast enough.
The ones who never mess up – who never get their shoes dirty or blush from embarrassment – are the ones that reach the end of life filled with regret. On the other hand, those that push the boundaries and need the occasional Band-Aid are the ones that make history.
If you want to fully enjoy success, get comfortable making more mistakes. Mistakes, therefore, are not fatal… they’re simply the pathway to discovery.