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Lessons Learned

3 Hidden Business Advantages Of Making Mistakes

Companies should attach rewards to growth and learning, including the kind that comes from messing up.

3 Hidden Business Advantages Of Making Mistakes

[Source photo: R. Gino Santa Maria via Shutterstock]

"Everybody makes mistakes." It's a statement so tritely ubiquitous that it's hard to know what to do with it. Every entrepreneur who's trying to stay ahead by being different and experimenting through trial and error knows that failure is always a possibility.

Much harder to discern is exactly what those errors can teach your business—at a practical rather than an abstract level. Last year, my company made the mistake of jumping to build a certain feature too quickly, before measuring the demand for it. But that bungled approach led us toward a much bigger idea, and we wound up building a product that became one of Apple’s "Best New Apps" in the App Store.

So even though you won't know exactly what hidden values your mistakes might be until you've made them, those advantages typically fall into one of these three categories.

1. They're The Best Training Program In Town

One reality that's usually left out of the conversation on performance management is the simple fact that you're not going to get the best out of your team members if they're constantly under pressure to succeed.

Give some thought to the areas where you feel mistakes won't lead to disaster, then open those up for experimentation. If there's absolutely no room for error, your employees won't have the opportunity to really learn anything. Finding the right balance can be a challenge, but don't forget that your best employees actually want to be pushed outside their comfort zones so they can develop new skills.

2. They're Where New Ideas Come From

In a culture of perfectionism and no compromises, it can be hard to accept that great ideas often come from mistakes. To be sure, so do some bad ones. But it's only by screwing up now and then that you can sort one from the other.

Inkjet printers were created by an absolute fluke when a Canon engineer accidentally left his hot iron resting on top of a pen, which led to ink being ejected from the cartridge. That inky mess formed the basis of the inkjet printers we know today.

Fluke discoveries like that, of course, aren't so common. But innovation also happens when a series of failed efforts—sometimes many of them—finally lead to something that does work. Trial and error can lead after a while to error fatigue, but a mind-set that's open to mistake-making from the outset can help you stay the course when you know it's worthwhile.

Being open to mistakes also makes it easier to listen to feedback about your product. Whenever we roll out new features or enhancements, we always pay attention to our users' response—especially when it doesn't always work out. Sometimes it takes talking to them in order to truly understand what went wrong. And it's that knowledge that you can transform into motivation for further creativity.

3. They're Insurance Against Complacency (Or Worse)

If mistakes can help you generate new ideas, it follows that they can also power your company's growth. This is something you already know, even if just subconsciously or in principle only: Risks can lead to big rewards. If you aren't doing anything to stretch yourself, odds are you aren't going anywhere fast.

Putting that into practice means shaking the illusion of steady progress that a more wary approach can buy you; if you're always succeeding and never failing, you're probably not taking enough risks. It can feel good to stride from one win to the next, but that achievement-oriented culture can soon spell your downfall.

No one will take the risks that drive your business in environment where it doesn't feel safe to do so. Most employees aren't paid for their ideas; they're paid to do the tasks they were hired to do. So attach rewards to growth and learning—including the sort that comes from errors—not just success.

Jason Shah is the founder and CEO of Do, a collaboration platform that helps you run productive meetings. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.

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