Screwing Up On Purpose- Testing Boundaries
Everyone is afraid of failure and equally so, everybody is afraid of being embarrassed. Sometimes, without doing it on purpose, we set ourselves up for such assumptions of failure and embarrassment through poor planning or the lack of testing boundaries. What this translates to is that we all make or set a standard or level of assumptions. Most will agree that assumptions are risky and dictate our future as well as our own actions.
We may sabotage ourselves before we ever take the first step towards success. For many, that is just too high of a risk to take and makes them believe they aren’t good enough to try it so they don’t. It is that simple. They don’t even try it. Thus, when faced with a difficult challenge or task, we must test these boundaries set up to help us become better and learn from our mistakes.
The late Robert Gunther in the Harvard Business Review in 2006 said that: True deliberate mistakes are expected, on the basis of current assumptions, to fail and not be worth the cost of the experiment…. But if such a mistake unexpectedly succeeds… [it] creates opportunities for profitable learning. In other words: if we fail, we learn something. If we succeed, our long-shot risk actually paid off. By reframing tough tasks as “deliberate mistakes” we can help remove all of the pressure that can keep us frozen, all while learning something along the way.
Most deliberate mistakes, as expected, don’t work out. your instinct, therefore, should be to avoid them or to minimize the impact of such approach. On the other hand, you may be missing a great opportunity and miss out on what you may learn from such actions. When fundamental assumptions are wrong, people can achieve success more quickly by deliberately making errors than by considering only data that support the assumptions. It’s a hands-on approach that can be controlled to a large degree and because it was an intentional mistake, the investment was low and less costly as well as risky.
The downside of failure wasn’t that bad. Even if you took into consideration all the dynamics involved in the failure, would have banked crucial knowledge of what caused it or what the gaps were. Here are some hints to make safer mistakes.
Scrutinize your assumptions – Our innermost assumptions are the fuel for deliberate mistakes. What are the rules you follow without thinking? Do you avoid public speaking opportunities or leadership roles? Pick one out and think about something you could do to put it to the test – in which the downside is low and what you will learn is potentially very valuable. For example, if you tend to avoid public speaking, you could volunteer to do a talk on a favorite subject at your local library or coffee shop, and invite a friendly audience, as opposed to trying a TED talk. This is a process we commonly call ‘breaking the ice’ and it works well.
Be prepared to fail — Don’t put too much stake in the outcome. You probably won’t succeed. But as long as the cost is low and you are prepared, it won’t hurt a bit.
Do your best – This is the hard part. When you don’t expect to succeed at something, your self-protective instincts can affect your effort. If you don’t do your best, you effectively guarantee that you won’t succeed – and you give yourself a flawed data set to measure against. But, more importantly, you reduce the lessons you learn even if you fail. So, you must, must, must do your very best to succeed.
Compare reality to assumptions – If you fail, if the mistake proceeds as expected, you will have a list of lessons that you gained from the experience. Which of your assumptions were correct, and which didn’t hold up? What surprised you? Use this list to plan your next development steps, so that the next time you venture into this experience, you will have a much better chance to succeed.
Deliberate mistakes are an underutilized tool in our personal growth. They are not natural and don’t arise by default. But, if approached the right way, they can propel us forward and provide us crucial information to guide our future development. To paraphrase Henry Ford, if you believe you can’t do something, you’re always right.