Career Sep 28, 2020

Being allowed to make mistakes – Why is this so important for corporate success?

Let’s be honest, compared with other cultures, which may be more open to experimentation, German culture is, broadly speaking, characterised by perfectionism and a zero tolerance for mistakes. Outside of the Teutonic world, it’s okay if results are delivered late or not at all as long as people have a passion for their work.

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Sabine Single
Managing Director, Bechtle Hosting & Operations

But, why should we make mistakes?

Albert Einstein once said “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new!” This is reflected in research into entrepreneurship that identifies three requirements for corporate activities:

  • Entrepreneurship includes the possibility of failure, which has to be kept in mind. Searching for a scapegoat and a culture of punishment do not help business. To give entrepreneurship a change, we need to free ourselves from these impulses.
  • Entrepreneurship needs a culture that supports seeing the world in a different light again and again and has the courage to accept ideas and drive change. In organisations that have a very hierarchical structure, such a culture is rare as those who are courageous and entrepreneurial, who could serve as role models have long left the company, frustrated and searching for a more suitable environment to develop.
  • Transforming people from being mere spectators caught up in the drudgery of every day routines into innovative drivers requires the courage to play an active part. Getting involved with something new and (being allowed to) step out of your comfort zone—that’s what we need if we want to drive innovation.

What’s important for promoting entrepreneurship?

  • We need to encourage employees to take risks and experiment in order to become more solutions-oriented.
  • Teams need to be given the freedom to question best practices through their own experimentation and search for even better solutions. There are only very few things that work today in the same way they did twenty, ten or even two years ago.
  • Making good decisions, faster should be a core skill that is encouraged in the long-term.
  • We should be more tolerant of mistakes. In my opinion, leaders need to coach their employees to learn from mistakes thus removing any fear of making them. Successful teams will take the lessons they have learned from failure and use them in their projects.

As a managing director, I feel it’s especially important to create an atmosphere of trust, in which we accept failures will happen, but in which we also continually improve ourselves and learn quickly. We need to make sure not to repeat mistakes as there are a whole raft of new ones waiting, from which we can quickly learn to drive our business forward.

In the operative areas of a company, such as production, it is especially important to quickly discover any errors and leverage improvement processes. We need to encourage a culture in which we see the discovery of an error as a success and take the opportunity to quickly find a solution and develop an early warning system that works to avoid downtime.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, discovered early on that innovation and failure are two sides of the same coin. He said that only when a system has been set up in which failure isn’t just allowed, but is part of the culture, are ground-breaking innovations possible.

Let us therefore be courageous and willing to experiment. Let's leave our comfort zone, cross borders and learn quickly from mistakes.