Why making a mistake can be good for us – most of the time!

Why making a mistake can be good for us – most of the time!

Joanna Swash explains the importance of learning and growing from the errors we make.

The road to success never did run smoothly and that is simply because we are human. We all make mistakes, or miscalculate a situation, perhaps listen to the wrong advice. At times we feel humiliated and angry with ourselves. We often tell ourselves that we ‘should have known better’. 

But it’s not wrong to forgive yourself and that the most important aspect of making an error, is to learn from it. People speak a lot about regrets, and yearn for a second chance to put things right. But if we don’t make mistakes, how do we learn, evolve and move forwards ‘ both personally and professionally?

If you hadn’t had to squash a few lemons along your journey, would you be the person you are today? Would you have learned to do things differently and therefore better? I would go as far as to say that making mistakes is good for us, perhaps even essential. 

After all, the whole foundation of Moneypenny was created from a mistake, when a personal assistant forgot to put fax paper in the machine and we missed out on a huge order. We are living proof that good things can come out of mistakes. I can guarantee that, whoever you may be and wherever you are in your career, you will have made mistakes along the way, and are probably still doing so. 

We are taught to believe that, if we make an error, this implies we are bad at something. But if we avoid situations where we know we are likely to make mistakes, then we are missing out on learning. It is about the fear of failure and being seen as weak. Not making mistakes, however, is the biggest mistake.

As leaders, we need to change our thinking and we need to tackle fear and ego head on. It may have been your concept to create a business, but you cannot grow and build this business on your own. And you will not grow and build the business without making mistakes. We need to tell the truth about making mistakes, own them and move forwards, because mistakes lead to success. 

I am more than happy with my lot in life and proud of what I have achieved. My mistakes have taught me to be a better person, and challenge assumptions and values. Mistakes have taught me what not to do. They have schooled me to be brave and shown me the importance of being authentic. But if we make the same mistake over and over again, then the value of the lesson is lost.

Everyone would prefer success over failure. But both are simply snapshots in time and don’t last forever. They should, however, be acknowledged for the lessons learned. Accept that you are human and be open to making mistakes. Embrace these moments as an opportunity to learn valuable lessons. Know who you are and accept that. 

Evaluate your strengths, as well as those areas which require improvement. Then take responsibility and make those corrections. No leader is perfect, nor have they all the answers. By admitting you have made an error, and by being authentic in how you plan to fix it, you are demonstrating strength and courage, and ultimately earning respect.

It is also important to learn from mistakes made by others. Most leaders are happy to share the lessons they have learned in business. People want you to succeed and are happy to help. So ask, engage and listen for the opportunities. Within reason we should welcome mistakes. Some of the most innovative household products were created because of a mistake. These include: Post-It Notes, Gmail and penicillin, to name just a few. 

We need to create a safe business culture where employees are empowered to try something new. As leaders, we need to encourage good, honest mistakes. By that, I mean those made with the best intentions. These errors are wholly different to those where a bad mistake has occurred because of a lack of care or a failure to carry out due diligence.

This means labelling ‘failure’ ‘ within transparent boundaries ‘ as being acceptable, and shows that bosses are leading by example. It means encouraging trust and respect in the workplace to ensure that everyone is happy to share ideas and value each other’s opinions. Any organisation’s most critical asset is its people. 

Employees offer a wealth of diverse knowledge, experience, thinking and innovation. They should be encouraged to learn from failure, which will benefit a person’s own development and potential, as well as that of the company. This should be the culture of all companies, whether an organisation is in business to create the next technical innovation or striving for excellence in customer service.

The stigma surrounding failure and mistakes is slowly being eroded. There is a growing appreciation for all of its benefits and an emphasis on why learning from mistakes is important. Every lesson learned can offer indispensable insight and experience. Making ‘a mistake’ is now seen as a valuable necessity on the path to success. Make mistakes, learn the lessons, and you will always come out on top in the long run.

Joanna Knight
Joanna Knight

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