Why and how to make “purposeful” mistakes

In Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure, Paul J. H. Schoemaker observes, “Our schools and organizations are designed for efficiency and order. These are fine principles but rarely encourage mistakes, either brilliant or foolish. Students are graded on how much they know, not on the degree to which they learn from helpful errors. Similarly, companies strive for error elimination, hiring advisers and relying on sophisticated management tools such as Six Sigma…For most people, [however] it is not that they make too many mistakes but too few.” And deliberate and purposeful mistakes are most important because of what they reveal and what can be learned from those revelations.

Schoemaker includes throughout his narrative several brief quotations from a variety of sources. Here are the ones that caught my eye:

1. Mistakes…are the portals of discovery.” James Joyce

2. “Success is 99% failure.” Saichiro Honda (founder of Honda Motor Company)

3. “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” Winston Churchill

4. “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.” Oscar Wilde

5. “So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because that is where you will find success. On the far side of failure.” Thomas J. Watson, Sr.

6. “Never test the depth of a river with both feet.” African proverb

7. “Chance only favors the prepared mind.” Louis Pasteur

8. “Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.” Vincent van Gogh

As Schoemaker suggests, “The key question companies [and individuals] 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 highly recommend Brilliant Mistakes, published by Wharton Digital Press (November 2011)

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