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We have all learned what we know partly by making mistakes. Some are boneheaded blunders of no redeeming quality but others are good mistakes. What makes for a good mistake?

1. It was made in pursuit of the vision of the organization.

2. You learned from it.

3. You shared your learning.

This code for making mistakes was created to encourage people to share their mistakes and what they learned. Too often our reaction to a mistake is to groan and try to hide it. After all, maybe you’ll luck out and no one will notice. The problem with that is of course other people will probably make the same mistake you did.

My great uncle Walter had this saying. Some people never learn from their experiences. Other people learn from their experiences and smart people can learn from the experiences of others. Walter contended that if you dropped the “l” off of learn you had a nice strategy for making money.

There is a story about the old days of IBM. A man had made a very expensive mistake. He was called into Tom Watson’s office, expecting to be fired. They talked about what he had done wrong. Finally the man asked if he would be fired. Watson’s reply was, “Hey I just invested $10,000 in your education. Put it to good use and no I am not firing you.” The story may be apocryphal, as I can’t find a source to confirm it. But the point is still valid.

One of my worst work mistakes was trying to give every employee 10 shares of stock in the form of stock options as part of an IPO. In spite of two-hour (paid time) training sessions and a bunch of overheads, handouts and discussions, ownership remained an elusive concept. I might have better spent my time banging my head against a brick wall. I had argued vehemently for the right to do this and it was flop. I still ponder how I could have done the whole thing better. I can picture a man from the distribution center asking me if the grocery store would cash his stock certificate for him. Argggg!

And there is the time, in spite of thorough reference checks and dynamite scores from our outside industrial psychologist, I hired a bigamist. This came to light when he was terminated and two separate families applied for COBRA. Oh dear. That took a bit of consulting with the lawyers. I couldn’t simply add a question to future interviews, “Oh, you’re not a bigamist are you?”

Yes, I have made a few mistakes.

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