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Make Mistakes, Plenty of Them!

By Tom Peterson

Should we fret when we make mistakes? Invented as a result of an accident, the error in trial and error, Post-its were featured in a new Inc. Magazine article: 9 Brilliant Inventions Made by Mistake. Other mistakes include Corn Flakes, penicillin, pacemakers and plastic. Plenty of others could have been added to that list of nine, for example:

  • In 1853 Levi Strauss mistakenly brought a bunch of canvas to San Francisco thinking he’d sell tents to gold prospectors. It turns out they preferred to sleep under the open sky. But what they really wanted was durable pants, so he turned his cloth into a new business.
  • Ivory Soap was “invented” when a Procter and Gamble worker went to lunch and accidently left the mixer on. They shipped the defective bars anyway, and soon customers wanted more of the soap that floats.

Not all mistakes are equal. Frank Lloyd Wright said, “A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.” Like a dead patient or cement wall, some mistakes are set-in-concrete irreversible.

Fortunately, most of the time we make mistakes it’s a learning opportunity — at the very least what doesn’t work. Have you ever worked with a leader who won’t allow a project to move forward until there’s zero chance of anything going wrong? It’s dysfunctional, and little happens there.

A.A. Milne summed it up, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience — well, that comes from poor judgment.”

Tom Peters tells us to celebrate failures. In The Little Big Things, he posits his Theory of Failure:

  1. To succeed, you have to try more stuff than the other guy — fast.
  2. If you try more stuff in a hurry, you’ll make lots of mistakes.
  3. Hence, screwing up a lot is a very good sign of progress—perhaps the only sure sign.
  4. If we aim to (more or less) maximize screw-ups, then we must do more than “tolerate” screw-ups.
  5. We must “encourage” screw-ups.
  6. We must celebrate screw-ups!

Make Mistakes Thunderhead Works Related Links:

Done is Better than Perfect

Make Mistakes External Links:

25 Accidents that Changed the World, web post.

Make Mistakes Quotes:

“A ship in a harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” — John A. Shedd

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” — Leonard Cohen

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and falling over.” — Richard Branson

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