The Benefits of Making Deliberate Mistakes | TechWell

The Benefits of Making Deliberate Mistakes

In his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes a loser as someone who “after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t explain it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on.” These types, he points out, often view themselves as victims of a large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather.

That’s quite a characterization, given how tempting it is when we make a mistake to run from it, rationalize it, conceal it, or blame others. But the reality is that sometimes a mistake is exactly what’s needed to make progress. So, sometimes you require not just a mistake—but a deliberate mistake.

The idea is to make a mistake on purpose even when you’re not sure it will help you get your problem right. Even if you don’t get what you really wanted or hoped for, you’ll probably learn something useful that will help you do better the next time around. Mistakes as a learning tool: I like this idea!

In fact, making mistakes can be good for your career and profitable for your business. That is, by deliberately making mistakes as a strategy for testing your assumptions, you can determine which assumptions are valid and which were all wrong and need to be altered. Those that turn out to be wrong can become steppingstones in previously unimagined directions.

That, in fact, is exactly what happened to a company whose employees identified ten key assumptions about their efforts. They then narrowed the list to three that they were least confident about and that, if proven wrong, had the highest potential payoff for the business. From the three, they selected this ultimate one: It’s not worthwhile to respond to requests for proposal. The company’s policy had been to never respond to RFPs, but they resolved to respond to the next one they received. Surprise, surprise: Their assumption proved wrong, and as a result of testing it, they profited big time.

Of course, the potential cost of deliberate mistakes can be high, so you can’t go making any old mistake willy-nilly. You might want to set some criteria for selecting which mistakes you want to tackle. One criterion, for example, might be that there’s a lot to gain relative to the cost of the mistake. A second might be that it concerns core assumptions that drive decisions you frequently make. And a third could be that the problem is complex, so making deliberate mistakes might result in awareness of other ways of addressing the problem.

It’s all a matter of reframing. By reframing tasks in which there’s a potential for failure as deliberate mistakes, we can eliminate the pressure that keeps us stalled and, in the process, learn something new and potentially valuable. So: Ready, set, fail!

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