You have permission to make mistakes

banana peel slip.jpg

It’s very common for people with mental health issues to underrate themselves and their ability. Sadly, thinking of oneself as a “failure” is widespread among people with a lived experience. If only we all realised how important the experience of “failure” is and how highly it’s valued! The secret is to stop seeing “a failure” as a type of person and to start seeing it as a necessary step we take on the way to success.

Now, the kind of valuable failure we’re talking about is the sort that helps us to learn important lessons and develop certain skills. As an example, there was an Olympic ice skater who was the first female to successfully complete a certain kind of difficult jump to win a gold medal. She estimated that in order to bring herself to that level of perfection, she had to fall down on her backside 20,000 times. Each one of those failures was part of her strategy to bring her one baby-step closer to her goal. If your goal is simply to stay upright on skates, then you have to be prepared to fall over between two or twenty-two times. The same principle applies whether you see yourself as ordinary or extraordinary.

The same is true in business. Take this example from the career of Richard Goyder, chief executive officer of Wesfarmers, one of Australia’s top ten firms. Some time ago, Goyder led Wesfarmers in a $20 billion purchase of Coles, a company which many believed was in serious trouble at the time. This was seen as a poor choice on Goyder’s part. That $20 billion was shareholder’s money, and shareholders don’t like to lose their investments. Goyder later said in an interview with Glenda Korporaal of The Deal, “I knew [that Coles was] performing [up to the required standard]… yet there was a lot of negative stuff being written. The mistake I made was assuming that everyone in the organisation [Wesfarmers] knew what I knew. It gets back to communication. I could see the numbers coming through but people…were reading the newspapers…I probably didn’t communicate this to the broader Wesfarmers employees as well as I could have. That was a lesson.”

So there you have it! One of Australia’s most experienced and successful businesspeople admitting to a mistake: the mistake of not communicating properly, thereby leading to $20 billion worth of flack! But Goyder learned his lesson, so something that you might have thought would tarnish his reputation has, in the long term, actually enhanced it.

“In Silicon Valley”, Goyder said, speaking of the famous centre of technological innovation in California, “there is an acceptance that failure happens, and that some investors won’t invest in people unless they have had some failures. We need to champion that and give people an opportunity to say failure is OK. We all make mistakes but the key thing is to face it and deal with it…if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying.”

See what Goyder just said? Some investors won’t invest in people unless they’ve had some failures. Why? Because that’s how you learn, especially in a job where innovation is important.

A recent survey by National Australia Bank (NAB) found that companies which are more agile and highly innovative are also the companies that have the greatest confidence in the future. The survey asked companies what attributes they needed to be highly innovative.

The second most highly rated attribute was “constant reviews of the existing processes and learning from their failures.” So if you want to be successful, learn how to fail well.

-Warren Heggarty


Glenda Korporaal, ‘The Goyder Line’ in The Deal, September 2015

Richard Gluyas, ‘Innovation key to confidence boost: NAB’, in The Australian, 23rd September 2015

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