At one of my first jobs in the energy industry, I was charged with scheduling natural gas on a pipeline. No problem, I thought. I’ve scheduled gas before.
Famous. Last. Words.
It took me three hours to do a task that, once I mastered it, would take me 10 minutes. After I finished, I went to tell my boss it was done. “Good job” he told me. “I didn’t want to give you the answers because I knew you wouldn’t learn unless you tried it yourself and made some mistakes.”
He wanted me to make mistakes. At my job. This was a new concept.
I would have a similar experience years later during a job interview when one of the interviewers – it was a 3-person panel interview – said, “we want you to make lots of mistakes.” When I asked why, she replied, “because that’s how you learn.”
It’s true. We don’t learn from succeeding all the time. We have to mess up to drive the point home – we have to make mistakes. So, if this is the case, why are mistakes viewed so unfavorably? Why do we live in a culture that frowns upon anything less than perfection, even as none of us are perfect?
Like the time I sent an email but forgot to update the internal system with the same information. My colleague couldn’t wait to point out my error, and when I apologized to the recipients, couldn’t wait to point out how he was the one who uncovered the error. Who wants to take a risk when that’s the reaction?
If we treat every mistake as a disaster or failure, we send a very clear message: don’t make a mistake. Don’t screw up. You’d better get it perfect. Even if you’ve never done it before.
That attitude doesn’t foster a culture of innovation, learning and growing. Instead, it produces an environment of fear and reluctance to try anything new. Sure, you don’t make mistakes in that environment – you also don’t reap the rewards of taking a risk. And in that situation, everyone loses. Talk about a toxic environment!
As individuals, we should strive to learn and improve, accepting and embracing the mistakes we will inevitably make along the way. We should treat each mistake as a learning opportunity, even if we’re not the ones who made it. Because at some point, we’ve all made – and will continue to make – mistakes.
So, the next time you make a mistake, own up to it, learn from it and move on better for the experience. And if someone else wants to behave like it’s the end of the world? Rise above it. Recognize it’s their problem. And hopefully, they’ll learn.
Just like you did.