Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Power Of A Mistake

When I started my career at Mary Quant in the 60s I was schooled in the fail fast, learn fast, fix fast, mantra. Lines went from conception to launch to discontinuation at lightning speed; it was a great place to discover the power of a mistake as a way of learning and improving.

In a similar vein Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman says he learns more about the human mind when it makes mistakes than he does when everything is working perfectly. Kahneman has been studying intuitive thinking for 40 years, and said this at the start of a recent master class on the science of human nature:

If you want to characterize how something is done, then one of the most powerful ways of characterizing the way the mind does anything is by looking at the errors that the mind produces while it's doing it because the errors tell you what it is doing. Correct performance tells you much less about the procedure than the errors do.

We focused on errors. We became completely identified with the idea that people are generally wrong. We became like prophets of irrationality. We demonstrated that people are not rational.

In psychology and life mistakes are powerful levers for discovery and future success. For Kahneman they are the key to understanding human nature. In business today’s mis-steps are tomorrow’s side-steps, making us more agile, dangerous and competitive. If you’re not making mistakes and learning you’re missing something big. So fail fast, learn fast, fix fast.