09/04/2013 Leave a comment
Few would argue with the thought that it is important to learn from mistakes, and some would go further by saying that our most important learning comes from mistakes and failure. What constitutes ‘failure’ is an interesting question, perhaps best illustrated with a quote from inventor Thomas A Edison; “I’ve not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
If an organisation aspires to be creative and innovative, then it stands to reason that mistakes will happen. How leaders and managers then deal with employees who make these mistakes is key and encouraging learning from them, rather than punishing the ‘error’, helps set the right tone.
Many moons ago I can recall a CEO, keen to encourage creativity and innovation in his organisation, say to employees that “it’s ok to make a mistake, as long as you don’t make the same mistake twice”. In effect, he was giving others permission to make mistakes, as long as learning and improvement came from them.
Now whilst this style of leadership might be music to the ears of Knowledge Managers, it also presents a challenge; for whilst it is relatively easy for an employee to ensure that he/she does not make the same mistake twice, how can a Knowledge Manager ensure that the same mistake is not made by someone else in the organisation?
One way to address this is to encourage all in an organisation to keep a Mistake Diary. This approach is explained in an article in the Wall Street Journal http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2013/03/29/the-manager-who-kept-a-six-year-diary-of-her-mistakes/?mod=WSJ_Management_At_Work and tells the story of a manager who kept a 6 year diary of her mistakes.
Inevitably, Knowledge Managers will find it easier to get employees to share their success stories with others, rather than their mistakes/failures; after all, employees are only human. However, the article is a reminder that it is sometimes best to focus knowledge management effort and resource on the things that are more difficult i.e. leveraging learning from mistakes/failures, than on the things that are relatively easy i.e. encouraging sharing of successes.
Photograph from Opensourceway’s Photostream on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/