Monday Motivation: Are You Making Enough Mistakes?

2009 May 18
by Kate O'Neill

Creative Commons License photo credit: plindberg

I was looking at a quote this morning…

Now bear with me. I know all the workplace motivational posters and feel-good quotes in email signatures get a bit much sometimes, but I still love a good quote and I do keep a collection in Evernote for reference. So much wisdom can come through in such a short space.

Such as this one I just glanced at and was struck again by:

An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field. – Niels Bohr

Along similar lines, I have a magnet that I keep near my desk that says:

Always make new mistakes.

I also keep a sign nearby that I was given when I worked in Germany that has an image of Snoopy (hey, it was a gift) and says (in German) something like:

As long as you learn new tricks, no one can call you an old dog.

My point is: learning and mistakes go hand in hand. What’s more, screwing up at work isn’t nearly as big a deal if you know how to recover from it. When you’ve made a mistake, if you admit to it immediately, apologize humbly, and help clean up your messes, you not only minimize the chance of being penalized for your error, but you’ve helped the organization learn from your mistake, too (even if no one else sees it that way initially).

look what I caught!
Creative Commons License photo credit: wotthe7734

To be clear, I’m talking about on-the-job learning and the mistakes that come from taking risks in your field, not about things like violating company policies out of carelessness, or showing up late to work.

I’m talking about facing a problem in your work and trying to think of the best way to solve it, and if the best solution you can think of is untried, try it.

Yes, you may fail.

But if you don’t allow yourself the risk of failure, how do you ever truly learn anything new?

And if you succeed, you could win big. You have not only chosen to do the thing you believed was best (something that can feel in itself like a reward), but you have shown the business something new. You and the rest of the company have learned. You might have even created a new best practice in your field.

Niels Bohr would approve.

So I leave you with this question: are you making enough mistakes?

Made any good mistakes lately? Tell us what you learned!

What’s your favorite quote? Tell us in the comments. We may feature it and credit you for sharing it!

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