Make More Mistakes

By Doris Helge, Ph.D. © 2008

Syndicated Columnist

Joy on the Job Coach

What if you knew no one would slice off your right leg if you made a big mistake?

What if you were rewarded for the confidence to fail?

Failure is a secret ingredient in the recipe for success. Post-it notes, penicillin, and vulcanized rubber were all created by mistake.

I encourage some of the companies I consult with to set up an area to showcase their best blunders. We applaud employees who have the courage to take risks. We thank managers for encouraging innovation.

Instead of trying to hide mistakes from the boss, excited teams at these innovative organizations celebrate every mistake on the road to success.

Like medical students, they eagerly dissect what we laughingly call “innovation cadavers” to discover why an effort failed. Without this knowledge, it would be impossible to turn a fiasco into a major success.

Top management supports us because openness about mistakes saves time during today’s competitive race to develop new products and services. They don’t encourage bloopers. They reward employees who learn from failure. It’s the best way to avoid repeating the same screwups.

If mistakes were hidden, each employee or team would waste resources making similar mistakes instead of learning from each other. The accepting corporate environment we create is a competitive edge.

If you don’t work at a company that rewards failure, it may be even more important for you to dare to make mistakes.

Employees who play it safe instead of taking healthy risks are usually initially rewarded for conformity. However, they are eventually passed over when it’s promotion time.

Steady Freddy and Betty aren’t considered innovative enough for leadership positions. It’s impossible to stand out when you’re struggling to do what everyone else does.

After a rough start in the art business, Walt Disney began his cartoon studio in his uncle’s garage. He endured many failures, even between major successes. He was criticized for “Disney’s Follies,” but he refused to relinquish his dreams.

Critics said an animated full-length feature film (originally “Snow White”) and the Walt Disney Theme Park would be disasters. Disney’s staff warned him he would bankrupt his company.

Disney followed his passion. He knew healthy risks are the key to success and financial security.

People with a consistent error-free performance usually are doing tasks far below their level of capability.

Unless you want to settle for boredom and mediocrity, embrace every mistake. Failures produce fabulous fodder for personal and professional growth.

What’s the worst that can happen if you admit to yourself that we all make errors and that you’ll make more mistakes in the future?

If you want more success and happiness at work, pursue activities in which you’ve never proven your ability to achieve. Refuse to label yourself a failure if you don’t immediately succeed.

A mistake only indicates how you performed in a specific situation. You’re not a mistake. You made an error that you can use to improve your performance.


Give it a go right now. Use your nondominant hand to write a letter or throw a ball.

Notice that you don’t expect a perfect performance when you engage in an activity for which you have no natural aptitude. Observe how easily you can excuse ordinary or poor accomplishment.

This simple exercise can help you squelch your tendency to judge your efforts harshly.

Give yourself permission to be as flawed as the rest of us. Each time you make a mistake, learn something valuable. Then redirect your efforts in a positive direction.

High achievers often remind us from their death beds, “Life is about the experiences we have. It’s better to regret what you’ve done than what you never tried to accomplish.”

Make sure you fail enough to be successful.


Doris Helge, Ph.D., is an executive coach, corporate trainer, and speaker. She is author of “Joy on the Job” and “Transforming Pain Into Power,” published in many languages. Dr. Helge hosts the “Joy on the Job” radio show and To discover how to create more fun and fulfillment at work and boost employee retention, contact Dr. Helge at

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