The Many Errors in Thinking About Mistakes
Here's a really interesting article that talks about our attitudes about mistakes. In the Toyota mindset, mistakes are something to learn from (and to prevent from reoccurring), an idea that can be traced all the way back to Samuel Smiles, who was an influence on early Toyota thinking. Based on the many mentions of Smiles in David Magee's book, I was tempted into buying a copy of Smile's book “Self-Help,” but I haven't had time to read any of it yet.
Anyway, back to the NY Times article.
“Studies with children and adults show that a large percentage cannot tolerate mistakes or setbacks,” she said. In particular, those who believe that intelligence is fixed and cannot change tend to avoid taking chances that may lead to errors.
Often parents and teachers unwittingly encourage this mind-set by praising children for being smart rather than for trying hard or struggling with the process.
There's some research, also cited right after that in the article, that suggests people are more willing to try difficult tasks (thus risking mistakes) after they are praised for “trying hard” instead of being praised for “being smart.” Being labeled smart puts pressure on people, that smart people don't make mistakes. How can we apply that in the workplace and break that mentality?
“One thing I've learned is that kids are exquisitely attuned to the real message, and the real message is, ‘Be smart,'” Professor Dweck said. “It's not, ‘We love it when you struggle, or when you learn and make mistakes.'”
Many Lean-related thoughts in the article, including this one:
After all, nobody wants a worker who keeps making the same mistake, and “if we fail and don't learn from it, it's not an intelligent failure,” he said.
Professor Gully and other researchers have looked at ways of training people to do complex tasks and found that in some cases encouraging them to make mistakes works better than teaching them to avoid them.
The value of learning from mistakes can't be confused with making careless or overly risky mistakes. We need to learn from mistakes, that's part of the kaizen process. If we're afraid of making mistakes, or think it will be view negatively, we'll be tempted to hide and cover up our mistakes, making systemic fixes less likely.
Good stuff, be sure to check out the whole article.
Have you done anything in your organization to help people “embrace their mistakes?” Or is the culture still one where only “dummies” make mistakes?