Are Mistakes a Cause for Celebration?

We all make mistakes on a daily basis. Mistakes are inevitable in all facets of life (including the workplace); none of us are perfect but how we handle mistakes is what counts. Yes, mistakes are frustrating and less than ideal, but could there be a silver lining to this dark cloud? I recently read an article by Alexander Kjerulf, an expert on happiness at work, who argues that rather than stigmatising failure we should acknowledge it or even celebrate it. We are all aware of the importance of celebrating success but I can almost hear you all ask, “Why on earth would you celebrate failure?”

One key reason outlined by Kjerulf is that when you celebrate mistakes you learn more from them. For example, when the website of one large company crashed it was a big deal, as most of their sales were online and every hour that went by was costing thousands of dollars. The CEO was told that “John in IT” had bungled the backup system and caused the crash. When the CEO came to talk to John, everyone in IT went quiet, feeling sure they knew what was coming. Instead, the CEO walked straight up to John and said, “I want to thank you for finding this weakness in our system and thanks to your actions we can now learn from this and fix the system, so something like this can’t happen in the future”.  Needless to say, this mistake was never made again. The idea around this strategy is that when people are in an environment where they can own up to their mistakes without fear of reprisal, they are more likely to admit responsibility and learn from them. This also avoids the time-consuming process of people attempting to cover themselves and explain why the mistakes they have made aren’t their fault.

Kjerulf also suggests that when people aren’t scared to make mistakes they won’t be afraid to take risks, in turn enabling creativity and innovation. Sometimes taking risks is necessary and the sooner you make a mistake, the sooner you can learn from it and move on. As a result, putting a foot wrong every now and then actually opens your eyes up to new ideas and ways of doing things.  If you’re not scared of failure, you may just be one step closer to success. To say that “failure is not an option” is misleading.  In reality, failure is inevitable; a work environment that is constantly putting pressure on its employees to only ever succeed is creating a culture where people are going to try to cover up their mistakes, ignore warning signs, and stick with the tried and tested as opposed to searching for new improved processes. On the whole, I would imagine that the most creative, innovative ideas are the ones where people have failed and tried again and again until they find the solution. And, if nothing else, it will most definitely make success all the more satisfying in the end!

So what do you think? Is there something in celebrating failure as well as success?


One thought on “Are Mistakes a Cause for Celebration?

  1. verticalx

    Absolutely agree. I’m just an I/O student with no formal managerial experience at the moment, but I see the value in encouraging ownership of and learning from mistakes (perhaps “celebrating” is too strong a word for my taste). If a company is aiming to perfect a product, they must learn to accept and value the potential failure of every iteration of that product until it works exactly how they wanted it to.


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