Errors are never looked at in a positive light. Since childhood, we are taught to aim for perfection and avoid mistakes—schools make it a point to punish errors and later on, bosses threaten to fire employees if they make or repeat a mistake, even if it was inadvertent. An aversion to errors can sometimes create a culture wherein employees constantly live under the threat of getting rebuked. As a result they don’t experiment or go beyond their briefs. Their creativity is hindered.
So, what qualifies as an error?
We call it an error when an activity does not yield a desired outcome. This could happen due to myriad reasons, such as carelessness, misjudgement, lack of knowledge or following a wrong sequence of tasks.
An aversion to errors can create a culture wherein employees constantly live under the threat of getting rebuked. As a result they don’t experiment or innovate….
Now, before I proceed, I am not advocating an “anything goes” culture. We do need flawless organisational processes, defect-free customer experience, error-free employee engagement, strategic planning, leadership etc. Clearly, there are critical areas wherein companies need to have zero-tolerance especially when it has a negative impact in areas such as human life, environment, organisational reputation, company profits, society, customer data-privacy etc
However, we should not create a culture of aversion for errors. When we do make mistakes, we shouldn’t quickly try to brush them under the carpet or necessarily address them with punitive measures. Instead, we should take the opportunity to reflect and learn from errors, and use these lessons to enhance our future performance. Errors do have silver linings and hidden opportunities which need to be discovered—here are six of them.
Errors open up one’s mind
When you admit an error, you are starting to reflect—which is a powerful trigger for opening up your mind, and thus learning and changing. As you change behaviour it opens up newer possibilities and many things which appeared impossible do appear quite possible.
Reporting errors is first step to prevention
Reporting errors is the first step towards creating a prevention mindset in organisations. When employees are made aware of these errors and their root causes, they know what needs to be avoided going forward. To get into the root causes, problem-solving teams work behind the scenes to find the cause and effect relationships that make errors happen. Actually, a key trait of taking a company towards excellence is proactively looking for errors and working towards preventing their eruption.
Errors could lead to innovation
Do you know how potato chips were invented? It happened because a chef called George Crum made an error while frying a potato. One day, according to legend, a customer sent back a plate of fried potato, requesting it be made thinner and crisper. Crum went a little too far with that brief, but to his surprise, the customer wanted more—and thus began the journey of the potato chip. There are many other items such—penicillin, pacemakers, chocolate-chip cookies, post-it notes, for example— which were created by mistake. Just think about it what would have happened if each of these innovators had tried to push their errors under the carpet. Clearly, if companies want to innovate they need to allow some errors. They have to foster a culture where employees are encouraged to innovate without fear of failure. Mistakes, after all, are nothing but experiences. Indeed, as this article in the Scientific American points out, “Skill must be culled from a string of mistakes. Lots of them.”
Errors provide a great opportunity to connect with customers
Errors during service provide a great opportunity to bond with customers. If your washing machine breaks down and the company immediately responds and gets the product repaired, you will continue to do business with them. Or for example, you are holidaying in Goa and you complain about poor service to the hotel general manager. The GM not only ensures your concerns are addressed but also gives you an extra night’s stay. Will you not come back to the hotel? Service failures/errors, while they should ideally not happen, are a great opportunity to bond with customers and make corrections to processes.
Errors prevent you from becoming arrogant
What errors tell us is that we are human beings and not infallible—regardless of our stature or past accomplishments. Hence, it does not pay to be arrogant. Rather arrogance pushes one to overlook blind spots which could be the cause of errors. Sometimes errors help to contain our egos which can run amok if not controlled and can mar one’s life or career. As I believe errors sometimes help to bring down a person who could be flying high to haughtiness and helps to get some humility back.
Errors help us to go out of our comfort zone
Many of us fear making errors for fear that it will jeopardise our status and standing. We fear that our errors will lessen others’ regard for us. However, when we do make an error it gives us a reality check that others are more forgiving than we give them credit for. It also helps get rid of the spotlight effect— the belief that we are being noticed more than we actually are. We tend to forget that people around us have better things to do than focus on what we are doing. When we actually make an error we realise it is not the end of the world and make be more likely to try our hand at new things in future and go out of that error-free comfort zone.