Make More Mistakes

By Chip Wilson

I have no problem admitting to the mistakes I’ve made—without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Here’s the thing: when life or business is going well, mistakes are usually masked and we tend to view them as nothing more than slight setbacks. When things are going really well, we tend to think it’s not worth our time to truly analyze our mistakes.

In this same context, when life and/or business is experiencing a downturn, as everything inevitably does, our mistakes are exponentially magnified. Even in our sleep, we go over and over the situation to determine what went wrong, and we agonize over what we will do differently to insure it never happens again. We agonize over our mistakes when things aren’t going well because our reptilian brains tend to want to ensure we will survive.

In today’s modern world, of course, we are not typically being chased by sabre tooth tigers or other predators, but our human brains are still looking for the tiger around every corner—whether in our personal lives or in business.

The big opportunity some of us tend to miss in the business of mistakes, is that when we are in a periodic of economic or personal downturn and we make a mistake, suddenly we’ve created this incredible opportunity to improve. Rather than beat ourselves up, we should try to see our mistakes not as failures or as something to bottle up and ignore, but as golden opportunities to better ourselves and our lives.

In the business world, this logic applies more than ever. People and especially public corporations like to cover up mistakes in order to keep up appearances for the short term. As most CEOs tenure lasts just 5 years, their incentive to keep up the “looking good mask” (for quarterly earnings or to enhance their curriculum vitae for their next job) is dominating and is often a simple matter of ensuring they too survive in the wild (AKA: increase their salaries as soon as possible). 

I believe that great people and great companies create a culture of “mistake coaching”. In practice, this means that allowing an employee who makes a mistake to determine why the mistake was made (and  assess the ramifications) becomes much more valuable than simply letting that person go. After all, a new employee is likely to make the same mistakes as their predecessor, while the company continues to miss the opportunity to gain the “mistake coaching” knowledge and improve for the better. It’s pretty simple—make more mistakes! Just be sure you’re willing to learn from them.