Does Your Corporate Culture Need More Mistakes?

“The way to succeed is to double your error rate” – Thomas Watson, founder, IBM

Do you believe in this wisdom?

In a corporate culture troubled by flat business results and lackluster morale, you will discover that fear of mistakes is rooted deep in the cultural DNA. Whether it’s overactive politics, polite “yes-sir” behavior, fear of humiliation/career limiting move, or deafening silence – fear stops creativity and quality thinking dead in its tracks.

The antidote? Mistakes. Think of them like the red carpet to better innovation and growth.

Hare a few tips for making more mistakes:

1) Name it.  Tell people “try a risk this week – not on an important deadline or a major project … but do something you’ve never done before.”

2) Ask people: “What would you do, if you were the decision maker?” Don’t cop out and give them the answer. Drill until you get to high quality thinking. And yes you should challenge with questions like “Have you considered ____________?” Your job as a leader is to make others think better.

3) As a leader, add “What’s the worst that could happen if we do this (or don’t do this)?” to your regular vocabulary. Stop avoiding the dragon’s den of hard conversations – walk right into the fear.  You’ll change the conversations in your business overnight.

4) Make experimenting part of the job. In Daniel Pink’s fantastic book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” he relates the great story about a technology company who gives people one day per quarter to work on anything they want. All those who created an idea and plan get to present them to the entire company – including the CEO – at a pizza-and-beer party. They’ve skyrocketed in growth as a result.

So take a page from Tom’s book and make some mistakes happen soon … and often.

Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert and co-author of 2 books including the brand new “Culture Builder Toolkit: A Step-by-Step Guide for Assessing and Changing Corporate Culture.”  She specializes in teaching companies and leaders how to align and transform their corporate culture to maximize profitable growth, productivity, and innovation. 

For free tools and resources on culture change, visit or follow her on Twitter at



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