Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Make Excellent Mistakes!

I really like Dan Pink's latest book, Johnny Bunko. I follow his Bunko Blog pretty regularly, but a recent posting really kinda ticked me off. Not because of what Mr. Pink said, but what some readers had to say about ways to "improve" his book.

A group from Canada's Ministry of Small Business got together to discuss the book, and ended up creating a list of suggested rewrites. I think they completely missed the point, and ended up with a painfully ineffective, watered-down, wimpy collection of suggestions

For example, they took issue with Lesson #5: Make Excellent Mistakes. They wrote:

Make excellent mistakes is the one we had lots of trouble with. It is rarely ok to make any kind of mistakes and many get brow beaten for mistakes. No one ever got fired for picking IBM. This applies in government. A rewrite could be "Know how to manage risk." How do you make excellent mistakes and come out smelling like a rose? How do you evaluate how 'excellent' your mistake can be. Is getting a divorce an excellent mistake? For some it is.

"It is rarely ok to make any kind of mistakes?" Um, says who? And guess what - that's a mistake! Mistakes are unavoidable & inevitable. Further, real mistakes come with consequences, so a mistake where you "come out smelling like a rose" isn't exactly a learning experience. And why bring up divorce? I don' t think that's what Lesson #5 is really about.

Bad thing happen. People make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes hurt. Trying to avoid mistakes is a fear-based recipe for mediocrity, ignorance and inaction. Johnny Bunko got it right. Maybe some people should get fired for buying IBM... and if you get browbeaten for making mistakes, I'd suggest either a) toughen up or b) find a new job / new boss.


Mark said...

"Trying to avoid mistakes is a fear-based recipe for mediocrity, ignorance and inaction."

I think I know what you are getting at here, Dan, but I think it is a bit overstated. It seems that you are arguing that it is bad to try to avoid mistakes. An example would be: if you are carrying scissors and are blindfolded, go ahead and run around wildly. But I would argue that it is a good idea to take off the blindfold and/or walk slowly.

In other words, while I agree with Bunko #5: Make Excellent Mistakes, I don't think it should be extended to Make Mistakes or make Make Stupid Mistakes. That is where I think the folks in the Great White North missed the boot, eh.

Risk management (i.e. mistake avoidance planning) is an important component of any well-managed program. In my experience the value of going through the process comes from forcing people to lift their heads out of the sand and face the fact that they are setting out with a blindfold on, scissors in hand. "But we need to get these scissors across the room really fast" they say. Fine, but let's stop a second and see if there is something we can do about the blindfold.

Mark said...

ps - the "Excellent Mistake" that I meant to conclude my example with would be to go ahead and run with those scissors once you have cleared your vision a bit. 'Cause you know it is dangerous and it's something unconventional, but it just might be the approach that makes the difference in getting the scissors to where they need to be faster than ever before.

Or you might stab yourself. ;)

The Dan Ward said...

Yes, well said as always, Mark!

What I meant to write was "trying to avoid all mistakes" or "trying to always avoid mistakes"...

The people who wrote their "better" version of Bunko Lesson #5 sounded like they want to pursue some kind of sure-fire, guaranteed approach to a mistake-free life.

Mark said...

Yep - and the only way to ensure that is.... do nothing! Which, as you point out, is pretty lame.