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. It’s about learning.

If you’re not making mistakes, then you are not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.

John Wooden, Basketball Coach

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 in the final result if you are expecting your team to innovate, 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 and waiting. You’ve whipped up your first little chocolate brownie cake and everyone hears the ‘ding’ that lets everyone know that the baking is done. Mouths are watering.

Excited, you open the little door and take the ‘cake’ 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 determine that maybe you didn’t stir the ingredients enough. The sibs were getting a big mouthful of salt or baking powder. Round two …

Now, let’s say you are the first to try making a cake

Let’s say you are the first person in the world, ever, to make a cake. Since no one has made one before, no one knows what it’s supposed to taste like or what happens when you don’t stir the batter enough. Your first result is just as unappetizing. Except, this time 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?

Or, the boss of the first cake-maker

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 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

Your competition across the lane may just keep at it. They may begin to understand the problems and figure out the solutions, after one-hundred or so mistakes, and they actually invent the cake. It works. People don’t just like it, they love it! They love cake and they aren’t going back. They love the baker for making it. They buy that baker’s bread and muffins and pies, 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 now knows a lot about cake. You know what that means – interviews, articles, guest speaker engagements, a prime spot in the culinary history books. Probably a picture, too.

I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.

Thomas Edison

(Sometimes a mistake isn’t a mistake)

Sometimes, it’s not about getting it wrong. Sometimes it’s about timing, or being in sync with people’s current needs, expectations, or knowledge about what you are going for and what it will do for them.

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, make room for mistakes, misunderstandings, surprises.

Plan for them. Create a timetable that accommodate mistakes and setbacks.

Make sure your team knows that you expect mistakes. That you want mistakes and the work-product – the knowledge and understanding – that comes from them. Who knows how that will give back in the future?

Be prepared. As you communicate your openness to mistakes, your team will make them and watch to see if you mean what you say. Mean it. Then watch the energy flow. As they believe that you’ve truly given them the freedom to create, to innovate, they redouble their focus, efforts, and creative thought with abandon and then, you are on your way. You grow a confident team that surprises you and themselves in ways none of us can imagine. You take us all places we haven’t been yet.

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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