Mistakes are an essential element of creating. It’s not a question of ‘doing it wrong’. It’s a question of observing, playing, experimenting, analyzing, visioning, trying things out, trying ideas on.

“If you’re not making mistakes then you are not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” John Wooden

Mistakes are the arrows painted on the road to a creative destination.

Managers, hear me now…

If you are not willing to allow your team to take the ride, don’t expect them to arrive. You may get somewhere. And, it may be somewhere that moves you closer. But, you will likely be disappointed if you are expecting your team to discover or create anew without making any mistakes. Columbus told his Queen that he’d reached the East Indies….

Walk with me:

You are a child. You are playing ‘kitchen’ or ‘toolshed’ or ‘bikes’ or something. Let’s just say it’s ‘kitchen’.

You have the Bake-It-Easier-Than-Mom oven going, your little table is set, and your siblings are seated around it. You’ve whipped up your first little chocolate brownie cake and the ‘ding’ goes off letting everyone know that the baking is done.

Mouths are watering in anticipation. You open the little door and the ‘cake’ comes out. It looks a little grey on one side, but hey, it’s a cake and you made it! You break it into pieces, pass the plates, and everyone takes a bite. Your youngest sibling get’s an awful look on his face as the older one let’s out a ‘eewwww’. You are crestfallen.

You try to recover your baker confidence as Mom helps you sort out that maybe you didn’t stir the ingredients enough. The sibs were getting a big mouthful of salt or baking powder. Round two …


Let’s say you are the first person in the world ever to make a cake. No one’s ever made one before so no one knows what happens when you don’t stir the batter enough. Your first result is just as unappetizing. Except, maybe this time, your whole tribe, your whole village is disappointed. You decide, “It didn’t work. I’m quitting.”

No cake for the world because you quit. On the upside, maybe the world is a little slimmer, but really, no cake?


Let’s say you were the boss of the first person who ever made a cake. They failed and it was pretty bad for business. You said, “That’s it. It doesn’t work. No, no, no. No more messing with this cake thing. It’s a waste of resources.”

No cake for the world because you put on the brakes?

Your competition across the lane, there may just keep at it. They may figure out the problem after one-hundred or so mistakes. They invent the cake. It works. People like it. They don’t just buy that baker’s cake, but they decide they like his bread better, too. That baker probably agreed with Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Until, they found the one that did …

That baker probably agreed with Thomas Edison,
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Sometimes it’s not about getting it wrong

Sometimes it’s about timing, or being in sync with people’s needs, expectations, or knowledge, or about whether something similar is already out there.

For example, I learned as an actress that if you thought a perfect, mistake-free audition was going to get you the part, you would be in for a lot of disappointment. The casting director could want a blonde and you are brunette, or they’d want someone more like her … or him … and you weren’t.

Or, they want the cake to be vanilla and you made chocolate. Or, they want the widget to be fireproof and you made it flammable. Or, they want the ad copy to reach 15-25 year olds and you wrote really great copy for 25-50 year olds. Get the picture?

So plan for them.

Put extra time in the schedule to accommodate mistakes and setbacks. Make sure your team knows that you expect mistakes. That you want to mistakes and the work-product that comes from them. Who knows where that might make a difference in the future?

And as you communicate that you expect and welcome mistakes, watch your team make them and check to see if you mean it. Mean it. It won’t be long before you are growing a knowledgeable, confident team that surprises you and themselves in ways you can’t imagine.

That’s what mistakes are really good for. Not just the learning they produce, but the creative freedom they bring when they are an expected part of the process.

If you are about having your innovation cake and eating it, too, mistakes are part of the recipe.

If the work is creating ’new’ … a new dish, script, program, painting, system, procedure, technique, company, song, fragrance, answer, question, a new solution, …

… people are going to be making mistakes.

That’s part of the fun 😉

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