On the Value of Mistakes

It’s baseball season. (!) I miss getting to watch my son play, but my colleague Jeff’s son is a junior in high school, and I can still watch him. He’s a pitcher. Yesterday, he threw four innings and did great. Allowed just one earned run. In case you don’t study baseball, let me sum it up: That’s pretty good, but not perfect.

Or is it?

My Dad, an airline pilot, used to tell me that some of the most dangerous pilots, oddly, were the ones who went through flight school without ever making a mistake. Perfect ground school, perfect solo, perfect lessons, perfect check-rides. The pilot who has never made a mistake, my Dad taught me, was a pilot who had never learned how to recover from a mistake. He knew people who died because they didn’t know how to recover from their first mistake.

Let’s talk about Jeff’s son again for a minute. A baseball coach looks at a pitcher differently from how the pitcher’s dad looks at him. The dad wants his boy to be perfect. But one of the things the coach wants to see is whether the kid can work his way out of trouble. And a kid can’t demonstrate how he works his way out of trouble without there being some actual trouble to work his way out of.

It’s uncomfortable for the dad, but it’s a necessary process.

This principle of mistakes having value can inform us in lots of situations. An example from work is when one of our software customers reports a defect. We could choose to regard every defect report as a blight upon some imaginary otherwise-perfect score. But we don’t do that. When someone reports a defect, we see it as an opportunity to demonstrate how we work our way out of trouble. It’s an opportunity to be helpful, to demonstrate how much we care.

Mistakes have value. Don’t overlook that.


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One response to “On the Value of Mistakes”

  1. Martin Haltmayer Avatar
    Martin Haltmayer

    Thanks Cary, very helpful and true, indeed.

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