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How to Make SMART Mistakes

Are you not reaching your potential because you’re too worried about making mistakes?

“Of course, I try to avoid mistakes,” you might say. “Don’t we all?”

Actually, no. We do want to avoid situations where the same mistakes happen repeatedly because no one follows an improvement plan. The difference is, repeating mistakes can harm you, but learning from mistakes can benefit you.

Repeating mistakes can harm you, but learning from mistakes can benefit you. Click To Tweet

“So how many mistakes am I expected to make?”

That’s your challenge right there! Stop worrying about the number of mistakes you make. If your mindset is that somebody is waiting for you to make a mistake, you’re stuck in a self-conscious rut.

Instead, imagine your customers and your team curious to hear what creative solution you come up with. The ones that work, give you a reputation as an innovator, and the ones that don’t work give you a chance to learn and improve.

When you have an idea to try out, ask yourself, “Will it help my customers or team?”

If the answer is yes, then do it. You know your business; now have the confidence to try ideas to improve it.

I know you may be thinking, “Guess I’ve got work to do.”

Good! Here’s a checklist to help.

How to Make “Smart” Mistakes

Dare mistakes to happen

Freezing to avoid mistakes is not growing. Learning comes from listening to helpful feedback and feedback comes when you’re in motion. Mistakes become teachers when we recognize them, communicate with our team, and implement course corrections.

Mistakes become teachers when we recognize them. Click To Tweet

Consider values & objectives

Planning only for resolving immediate challenges leads to frequently having to change shortsighted plans. Weigh ideas against long-range goals and organizational values, then be willing to take risks to achieve those worthwhile objectives and values.

Don’t kill an idea with research

Begin when you have a reasonable fraction of data you think you need. The rest of the information will come as feedback when you’re in motion; you’re expected to make adjustments as you learn. Standing still to gather the last tidbits of information is indecision and some of the information you’ve gathered may even be outdated by the time you begin.

Make team decisions

When team members have input into a choice, they’re committed to making their plan succeed. If a mistake looms, they’re committed to making corrections rather than assigning blame.

Don’t ask – tell

Playing “Mother, May I…?” wears out your upline and leaves you powerless. Come up with a plan you believe in and report it matter-of-factly with your overall action plan. If your upline has questions, you’ll hear them, but don’t try to make anyone else responsible for your plan’s success or failure. Own your territory.

Take calculated risks

“Safe” plans have lower learning potential. When you see an opportunity, leap at it! Whether succeeding brilliantly or going “splat,” you’ll have learned what happens when you do that and generated new feedback to enhance your learning. Remember to thank people for their feedback, regardless of whether it was delivered kindly or soaked in vinegar. Then, let people (especially your team) know what you learned and what you’ll do differently next time.

“Safe” plans have lower learning potential. Click To Tweet

Serve your customer

Correct decisions and mistakes are each made on behalf of your customer. Let them know how wise and brave they were when risks succeed—and how they can count on you for corrective actions when you notch a magnificent mistake. Any explanations you must make will make sense when you’re in service of your customer.

Be accountable

The game is “No blame.” If a risk turns out to be a mistake, take full accountability and spearhead the effort to correct the outcome and document what you learned. Blame turns mere mistakes into failures and ruined relationships.

Blame turns mere mistakes into failures and ruined relationships. Click To Tweet

Share credit; take accountability

When risks pull through with no major mistake, spread credit lavishly, making sure top management hears about the team achievement. Not merely so that others enjoy working with you, but because learning doesn’t only come from correcting mistakes—people also learn and are inspired by seeing what it looks like when they get credit for mistake-free work.

Making mistakes is no mistake. Take risks willingly to find learning opportunities. Risk analysis isn’t about avoiding risk; it’s about identifying obstacles and knowing what you’ll do when problems come up. Having a Plan B and even a Plan C makes it more likely your exploration will carry the twin labels of educational and successful.

Take risks willingly to find learning opportunities. Click To Tweet


gregory lay headshotGregory Lay writes and speaks to help people improve their performance without necessarily changing careers or companies. He’s an experienced journalist, speaker, speaking coach, and trainer with a specialty in organizational understanding. 



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