December 12, 2011

The Tuition Value of Mistakes

What is a mistake?

Is it a blunder?



A momentary lapse in judgement?

It’s perhaps all of those; but one avenue often overlooked is that a mistake has value.

A mistake, however you define it, has tuition value.

And to be blunt, organizations that sweep mistakes under the proverbial rug, without using them as an opportunity for learning, undermine in entirety their tuition value.

However a mistake occurs, whomever is to blame and whatever negative consequence it resulted in is immaterial.

What is key for any organization is what we learned from the mistake such that the individual, the team and the organization benefit thereafter.

One doesn’t (necessarily) teach mistakes but once they occur, the tuition value can kick in if steps are taken to insert the opportunity into the learning cycle.

Whether a “sin of commission or sin of omission” (Nicklin and Williams, The Journal of Psychology, 2009, 143(5), 533–558), mistakes need to become part of a transparent learning cycle in any organization. One of the four key traits of a team is being an educator and as such, the team (or organization) must recognize the sin as an active ingredient to both the success of the team (organization) as well as the Collaboration Cycle itself.

There is value in a mistake.

There is, perhaps, a hidden tuition value in the mistake.

We don’t think to spend money on courses, facilitators and ‘experts’ focusing specifically on our mistakes … but there they lie, on a daily basis throughout a team and an organization, somewhat inchoate, yet we let them decay for fear of reprisal or our manager becoming apoplectic.

What can we do to gain value from this dormant tuition?

  1. Mistakes happen. Embrace them.
  2. Devise and embed ‘evaluation’ processes into individual and team projects.
  3. Develop open collaborative communities (online and face-to-face) that provide a mechanism to share mistakes.
  4. Openly share the tuition value of mistakes; when we learn from a mistake and course-correct to benefit a future action, how does that manifest in hour savings, cost savings or other factors and criteria? Publish it.

There is tuition value in a mistake.

Don’t make the mistake of mistaking mistakes as inconsequential.

Remember, you can’t spell mistake without ensuring you put a stake in it.

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