Leaning from your mistakes

Jun 16 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

A few months ago, our columnist Dan Bobinski used his weekly column to argue that failure – or rather, lack of success - is both bearable (normally) and should be considered a learning opportunity rather than the end of the world.

"Most mistakes, oversights, or coming up short on goals are not as serious as an oxygen tank exploding on a spacecraft. The majority of failures simply take us to a fork in the road, where we can either assign labels and blame or we can choose to learn," Dan said.

But, as Brian Bloch writes in today's Daily Telegraph, most organisations which claim to have a learning culture in fact nullify innovation through a culture of fear and unease in the context of change, "while failures are often handled so that error terror stifles creativity."

So the initiative he discusses adopted by BMW to reward well-intentioned mistakes – or 'creative errors' - is a real breath of fresh air.

The point is that people who depart from the conventional and innovate with a calculated risk, should not, if things go wrong, be mocked and derided, but encouraged to undertake further, sensible risks in a spirit of optimism.

In precisely this spirit, Gerhard Bihl, head of personnel and social services at BMW Regensburg, started an initiative with the original title: "Flop of the Month", although it was really about the "Creative Error of the Month".

Employees were honoured who developed ideas and encouraged potentially sound and promising projects, even though they ultimately failed.

Brian Bloch's conclusion is spot on: If the organisational structures and reward systems are right, people really can overcome individual risk aversion and fear of making mistakes. By so doing, the road is open for companies to innovate.

Daily Telegraph | You've made a mistake? The boss will buy you a drink