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Is Your Company Mistake-Friendly?

Don Michael, author of learning to "Plan — and Planning to Learn," believes that the capacity to learn from mistakes and move on is the hallmark of a fast company. But before you even reach the point where you must own up to a mistake, Michael suggests asking a potential employer two questions that will help you dope out the prevailing view of burning while learning.

What you should ask:

"How do you conduct your strategic planning?"

What you hope to hear:

The company implements scenarios; playing out various possibilities based on changes that the future may bring, the company strategically prepares for events ranging from political upheaval to demographic shifts.

What it tells you:

They accept that things rarely go as planned. What you don't want to hear is that they have the future mapped out — that's a sure sign of a rigid, by-the-numbers mind-set.

What you should ask:

"Is this a learning organization?"

What you hope to hear:

Of course you'll be told that it is. The tip-off, however, is whether team leaders explore a business world that lies beyond their own immediate markets. Shell Petroleum Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. do this, employing divisions of people who research far beyond the fields of oil and technology and use the results to help determine the company's future direction.

What it tells you:

The company just might draw lessons from failure as well as success.

Coordinates: $29.95. "Learning to Plan — and Planning to Learn" (Miles River Press, 1997), 800-767-1501.

A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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