Celebrating Mistakes


All of us have made mistakes in the workplace. Imagine if instead of having to hide, cover-up, feel ashamed, or blame others for these indiscretions we could embrace and celebrate them as part of the process of learning how to better do our jobs.  You don’t get success without failure, so why not appreciate the valuable lessons?   After all, we learn far more from our failures than we do from our successes.  My favorite definition of success  “moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm.”

Simply reframing our mistakes and failures as “lessons learned” or “wisdom gained” can change your outlook to one of positivity. So be vigilant in your work, but don’t be too hard on yourself when you make a mistake. However, how you deal with it will reflect on your character, and it’s up to you to make it into something positive.

 According to a survey from the 2010 World HRD Congress in Mumbai, the #1 killer of innovation is having a culture that hesitates to empower employees to take risks. In other words, if we encourage our employees to go on and take those calculated risks, we will get more creative, pioneering solutions.

Sharing one another’s setbacks will become an indispensable teaching tool for moving the entire company forward. But is it possible to go a step further, and bring light and fun to them as well? Here are some clever ideas from companies who honor mistakes:

 $50 for the Best Mistake

A sales manager slept through her alarm and missed a flight, along with an important meeting with a customer.  At the next sales meeting, she pulled out a $50 bill and placed it on the conference table.  She then shared what happened as well as the lesson gained.  Next, she challenged all of her salespeople to share a mistake they had made in the past month and what they’d learned.  The person who made the biggest mistake with the best lesson learned was awarded the $50.  This became a monthly ritual, leading to more transparency and a more authentically connected team. This effective practice can be done with any amount of money!  Try it!

Hungry for Mistakes

At a recent program of mine in Karachi, Pakistan, Sr. Executive Parveen Hatim (Shares Department) of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) relayed another excellent example of celebrating mistakes.  There, the person who makes the mistake is responsible for providing delicious, healthy snacks (samosas, sandwiches, patties, rolls, etc.) for the entire department.  Anyone in the department is allowed to identify the mistake—be it the manager while signing the order, or any colleague who happens to spot an error in a price comparative or in processing / procedures.  It’s a subtle and beneficial way to understand the repercussions of a mistake, while hopefully helping to avoid a repeat of the error.  According to Parveen, people actually look forward to the occasional mistakes made in the office because of the food that inevitably follows.  Unfortunately for the hungry hopefuls (but fortunately for the company), mistakes have been reduced in part through this tradition.

Whatever your procedure may be, the point is to learn from a mistake and to bring a sense of fun to it as well. One of my favorite bumper stickers is, “No rain, no rainbows!”  If we look for life’s rainbows that inevitably come after the perpetual rain, we grow to appreciate the rain more. For with the rain comes perspective, growth, and some of life’s most glorious lessons.   The key lies in only letting ourselves stay down for a limited time.  There’s nothing wrong with throwing ourselves a little self-pity party along the way, as long as we know when it’s time to say goodnight to the only guest at the party—ourselves.

Written by:

Scott Friedman

Scott Friedman, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) and former President of the National Speakers Association (NSA), is an internationally sought after professional speaker and author. As a motivational humorist, Scott inspires and entertains with engaging, interactive, and content-rich programs. Scott’s main areas of expertise are employee innovation & engagement, customer experience, and creating a happier, more connected workplace and life.

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