The Importance of Making Brilliant Mistakes

Brilliant MistakesIn Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes , he observes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'”

I cite this passage when interviewing thought leaders and ask them to respond to it. Here’s my own take:

1. The most innovative organizations fail fast and fail often with constant experimentation — usually with prototypes — to learn what they need to know in order to succeed.

2. Schoemaker is talking about strategic experimentation. From which experiments that fail will we learn what is of greatest value?

3. Thomas Edison and his research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, offer an excellent case in point. After one of associates lamented the failure of the latest experiment with filaments, Edison reminded him, “We now know 1,000 ways it won’t work.” Eventually, the Edison Company produced the first commercially viable light bulb.

4. When Peter Senge introduced his concept of “the total learning organization,” his focus was on knowledge transfer between and among workers at all levels and in all areas. Knowledge of what doesn’t work is at least as important as knowledge about what does.

5. There is an important lesson to be learned from the title of Carla O’Dell and Jack Grayson’s business classic, If Only We Knew What We Know. In the most innovative organizations, knowledge transfers are constant, especially knowledge gained from so-called “failures.” There is another form of knowledge that is at least as valuable: learning what we think we know but, in fact, don’t.

Here’s a direct link to my review of Brilliant Mistakes.

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