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mistakes at work – why you need to fail to succeed

why you should make mistakes at work graphic

Over time we have somehow succumbed to the notion that making mistakes is seen as a failure. This is more prevalent at work. The fear of making mistakes at work can cause anxiety and becomes counter-intuitive to our goals of staying productive and performing at our best. This anxiety can either increase the percentage chance of making a mistake or in fact, causes us to not take on tasks in fear of failure.

It doesn’t have to be this way! We evolved over time by not making mistakes and learning to grow. What has happened to us to make us believe that this process would not work now? When the cognitive revolution occurred, were we not testing, making mistakes and learning from them in order to grow? Of course, so why stop doing this? It’s time as leaders to drive the innovation of change within our workplace cultures and strive for more forward-thinking processes and actions to help grow our teams and businesses.

success stems from failure

Richard Branson quote - you don't learn by following the rules

Many of the most successful people in the world have felt the taste of failure frequently before reaching the dizzying successful heights that they see today. Apple fired Steve Jobs before he returned to catapult Apple towards the very top of personalised computer technology. Thomas Edison was told that he “was too stupid to learn”. Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job and now owns her own TV channel. The learning’s we take from our failures help guide us closer towards the success that we seek.

Probably one of the most famous entrepreneurs who openly discusses his mistakes and encourages them is Richard Branson. Through failure, Richard learns more about business, his teams and himself each time he does so. The Virgin Group has failed in ventures from digital technology to bridal wear, but has succeeded in rail, planes and holidays! Richard actively promotes making mistakes and often quotes former US President Theodore Roosevelt – “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” Because how will we ever know what we can truly achieve without trying?

learning comes from making mistakes at work

So why is it that the most successful people in the world strive for, and thrive off of making mistakes? Simply put – you learn when you try. By doing so you find out the answer or know what went wrong. Otherwise, how will you ever know what works and what doesn’t?

The most important thing to take away from failure is experience – we learn from our shortcomings and by making mistakes at work, we have gained valuable experience that will benefit ourselves and the wider team.

Imagine overhearing a colleague come across a problem, from which you learned the answer from a previous mistake. Your experience has the answer to help stop that same mistake from reoccurring, which benefits the development of your leadership qualities, your team’s talents, and your business overall.

making mistakes at work gets you closer to the answer

Encouraging mistakes gets you that much closer to the solution. I think the skepticism around this is when people use this as an excuse for consistent failures, or mistakes. The best thing to do is to monitor your mistakes. Whenever you’re working on something, it’s imperative to run ‘mistake realisation’ tests; create your goal, your objectives from the project and the approaches that you’re looking to take. Then write down the expected mistakes you’re going to make based on your experience and knowledge, and create a column for new mistakes made and run through these at the end of the project to make sure that you’re aware of them for the next project.

Everything should be done in a moderated way – we cannot just make a mistake and say ‘we’re testing and learning’. There’s no strategic benefit to that and so some strategic thinking for your failures will help guide you forward, rather than into a web of constant errors – this doesn’t benefit anyone.

making mistakes at work increases your resilience

resilience plant sprouting in a drought

If you’re in the right working environment, you’ll naturally be encouraged to fail to succeed. The best companies, leaders, and environments allow us the room to grow by making mistakes in work. In doing so, their confidence in us, allows us to build up resilience and courage levels. Resilience is something the workplace needs more of and is a reflection of how the workplace has developed over time. By creating a more resilient workplace and team, we can create a stronger, more confident workplace, willing to explore ideas and change how we move forward in business.

Can you take this advice and run with it in your teams/businesses? Perhaps try a ‘test and learn’ approach to small projects and record your results.

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