<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Issue 4.9 of Unleashing Your Remarkable Potential - When Mistakes are OK
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Unleashing Your Remarkable Potential
Issue 4.9 - February 26, 2007 - ISSN: 1551-6571

In Kevin's Own Words

When Mistakes are OK

Tom had some good ideas for improving things at work. He had gathered evidence and background information and was pretty confident his idea would work. But he wouldn’t pull the trigger and try it. He was hesitant because he was afraid of making a mistake.

Larry listened as his neighbor Tom shared his idea – and his hesitancy. Larry saw the world differently. Larry told Tom his approach: “I always ask myself – what is the worst thing that can happen? So what if I make a mistake – it gives me another idea about what does work. That’s what I do on the job – and it seems to work great!”

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Tom appreciated - even admired - Larry’s thinking, but he couldn’t see that approach working in his company. He felt the way to success was to avoid mistakes at all costs. Being cautious and careful was clearly the way to a promotion.

We all have our own comfort levels about risk taking and the potential for mistakes, but a big part of how we view mistakes comes not from who we are but from where we work – just like Larry and Tom.

I’m sure you recognize that if we take Tom’s approach to the extreme, nothing ever changes and nothing is ever improved. The larger the repercussions of a mistake (real or perceived), the more risk is involved in trying something new. This leads to people being hesitant to try something new – because they are afraid of the consequences of making a mistake.

To be sure, taking Larry’s approach to the extreme can lead to chaos and very expensive mistakes – frequently.

As with many things we need to strike a balance both for ourselves and in our organizations – a balance where we recognize the risks inherent in mistakes, but we are still willing to try new things and can live with the possible outcomes, even if those outcomes are mistakes.

How do we find this balance?

You will find it by deciding when mistakes are really OK – and when they aren’t. Here are four criteria to help you find that balance individually and as team or organization:

Mistakes are OK if:

  • They lead to learning.
  • They aren’t repeated.
  • They are done in pursuit of your goals and objectives.
  • They don’t violate or conflict with your values.

Let’s look at each of these a bit more closely.

Mistakes are OK if we learn from them. Remember that one of the best opportunities to learn is when we do something wrong – when we make a mistake. If you reduce the opportunities for mistakes you seriously limit your learning opportunities.

Mistakes are OK if they aren’t repeated. So you make a mistake once – learn from it. If it is a repeated mistake, it is less valuable as a learning experience (unless you’re trying to learn the mistake). In fact anything you did learn from the first mistake, likely will be lost with the repeat performance.

Mistakes are OK if they are done in pursuit of your goals and objectives. To achieve any worthy goal or objective different things must be tried. In order to improve anything you must try a new way. New approaches will sometimes cause mistakes. When the mistake is made trying to achieve the agreed upon goals, what could be wrong with it?

Mistakes are OK if they don’t conflict with your values. If your company values safety and the mistake puts you or those around you at a physical risk, then that mistake isn’t advisable. But if no laws are broken and no values are violated, a mistake shouldn’t carry major repercussions.

Applying These Criteria

Think about these criteria collectively not individually. In other words, a mistake could pass three of the criteria but not the fourth. In this case it isn’t OK. But if it meets all four criteria, my advice is to celebrate the person for taking a risk (or congratulate yourself) and keep moving forward.

With these criteria in place people will become more willing to try new things; to take a bit more risk; and to be less tentative. All of these things will lead to some mistakes – but they will also lead to great opportunities for growth and improvement.

Consider how you can apply these criteria for yourself personally and how you can begin to make them a part of your organizational culture. That decision will lead to a few more errors, and open you up to great opportunities for improvement too.

Potential Principle – Mistakes are OK, even valuable, when they meet the four criteria. Make sure that you apply the criteria for yourself and others to maintain and spur creativity and innovation and reduce fear and insecurity.

Kevin Eikenberry

A Remarkable Leadership Teleseminar

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Kevin's Recommends

Made to Stick
Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Made to StickMade to Stick is one of the books being talked about most in the last few weeks. Published at the first of the year, I believe it will be one of the bestselling books of the year.

There are several reasons why.

1. It is about a relevant topic – communication – and making communication more effective.
2. It is well written.
3. It has great stories.
4. It gives you tools to apply what you have learned.

In other words, I believe it is earning its buzz.

The book describes six factors that make ideas more "sticky" (easier to remember and understand). By using an acronym (SUCCESs) it details each of the factors in an interesting and useful way.


I found myself taking notes and thinking about a variety of applications as I read, including coaching I would be giving to a Client the following day, making training more successful, helping us write better marketing pieces for our products and services and more.

Not only that, but I seldom have read a book that was as good in the final chapter as in the first, and that is clearly true here – plus the final section is a very useful summary that you will refer to often (I have several times in just the last few days).

Anyone that reads this newsletter would benefit from reading this book. In the end it works because it models the concepts it teaches – This is a book full of ideas that are very sticky.

You can learn more about the book at the author’s site and/or at Amazon.com.

About The Kevin Eikenberry Group

We help organizations, teams and individuals reach their potential through a variety of products and services including:

- Consulting / Coaching
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- Products to support the development of your potential.

To learn more click on the links above or call 888.LEARNER or 317.387.1424.

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