How to Make the Right Mistakes

Mistakes happen. The only people who never seem to make a mistake are the ones who refuse to try. They will eventually figure out that not trying is the biggest mistake of all.

Of course, their excuse for not trying is often that they are afraid of making a mistake. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. 

Successful people make mistakes and lots of them. They fix a lot of mistakes too and they seldom make the same mistake twice. Now I’m not so optimistic as to say there is such a thing as a “good mistake.” Given the choice I would never recommend anyone purposely make a mistake. 

If a mistake can be avoided it should be. All mistakes have one thing is common: they eat resources. Mistakes cost either time or money and oftentimes both. Throw in the fact that they can disrupt momentum and it’s clear that mistakes should be avoided if possible.

If possible! There’s the rub, if you’re going to try new things, if you’re going to push your limits then you are almost certainly going to make mistakes. Just make sure you’re making the right ones.

A right mistake is one made from honest effort. It’s a mistake made in the pursuit of a known objective. If you have no objective, goal, or desired outcome for whatever it is you’re doing then pretty much every mistake is the wrong one.

Most of all, a right mistake is one you learn from. It’s a mistake you learn enough from that you won’t repeat the mistake. It’s a mistake that at minimum shows you how some thing won’t work. A right mistake is one that’s made only once.

When you make a mistake the first thing to do is pause for a bit. The bigger the mistake the longer the pause. Do a bit of self-assessment to be sure that the mistake is not skewing your sense of self worth. Remember, making a mistake does not make you a mistake.

Analyze where you got off track and how exactly the mistake was made. Back track a bit because the real cause of the mistake could have been several steps back in your process. One of the main reasons that mistakes are repeated is that people fail to identify the root cause of the mistake.

Make a plan to avoid the mistake in the future. I love the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” The only problem with that saying is that it has caused more mistakes than any other single piece of advice. DON’T just try again, try again with a new and different plan. If you’ve really learned from your mistake the plan may not always be a better plan but it darn well better be a different plan. 

I really don’t believe it’s mistakes that cause ultimate failure. It is a person’s or team’s response to the mistake. I also don’t believe that a mistake can’t be fixed, some take more effort than others but nothing is impossible. 

So get busy, take some risks, try new things, make some mistakes and succeed! 

3 thoughts on “How to Make the Right Mistakes

  1. Steve Borek says:

    I like Lanny Davis’s (former special counsel to Pres. Clinton) formula for mistakes:

    Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself

    Mistakes go away quicker when you follow this formula.

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