I started a new job this past month, so I am back to being an amateur. No matter how many years of experience one might have, starting anything new is by definition…new. The view of the beginner is refreshing and can often lead to new insights. It’s a good perspective to cultivate and one that we must nurture in today’s dynamic and technology-fueled markets. But any time of learning can be error prone. And for any experienced person who finds themselves an amateur, fear of making mistakes can be a weight and a worry.
So, how do we free ourselves from a fear of making mistakes, so that risk taking, leadership, fresh insights, and a sense of urgency can flourish?
The fastest way is to change our frame. What if mistakes are not real? What if they represent not failure, but a lack of imagination. Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors of all times, is credited with responding to a critic by saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” What if that is the attitude that we should foster? Instead of being paralyzed by the fear of failure, how do we make failure part of our forward progress? Why aren’t mistakes seen as a result unto themselves, not just eliminating alternatives on your journey to success, but rather a solution unto themselves?
There are some amazing new discoveries that were accidental or based on a mistakes. The microwave oven, super glue, saccharin artificial sweetner, Teflon, and even the Slinky were all accidental inventions. What began as a failed adhesive for one project became the perfect for another. What began as a spring that was dropped on the floor during a Naval experiment, became one of the most memorable and creative toys in history. Rather than “making a mistake,” they actually “made a solution.”
Next time you “make a mistake” (after you apologize and do any necessary clean-up), ask yourself the following question: based on the outcome that I have observed, what problem WOULD this solve? How did you inadvertently “make a solution” on which you can take action or take away some learning?
In the recent art film, The Last Word, a cantankerous, but insightful character played by Shirley McClaine said “You don’t make mistakes. Mistakes make you. Mistakes make you smarter. They make your stronger, and they make you more self-reliant.” Perhaps when you make your next mistake, the thing you are developing the most is you.
Originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse. All opinions my own.