Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it for the second time and fortunately we all have a wonderful capability for accruing experience! It is almost impossible to do anything new without the probability of mistakes occurring.
A mistake is an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by insufficient knowledge, poor reasoning, carelessness or a misunderstanding or misconception. Examples include forgetting our passwords; eating more food because it is served in a bigger bowl and overpaying for gym memberships and phone plans.
We all tend to:
- Look but not always see: when we look at something we think we see all there is to see, but we don’t. The eye’s area of clear vision is a cone of about 2 degrees – the size of a 5 cent coin (or quarter) at normal viewing distances.
- We connect dots we don’t know we’re connecting, the sub-conscious mind does this for us based on preconceptions and stereotypes!
- We wear rose-colored glasses and/or think the grass looks greener – our innate biases drive us to these errors (for more on ‘bias’ see: WP 1069 – The innate effect of Bias).
- We are really terrible at really appreciating probability, perspective, size and shape – if you don’t believe these two table tops are the same size go to: http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/sze_shepardTables/index.html.
- From a stakeholder management perspective, the challenge is not eliminating mistakes – this is impossible, rather designing systems and processes in a way that will minimise unnecessary mistakes and accepting there will always be others that will require managing.
We can minimise mistakes by being aware we make them and avoiding the known traps and pitfalls. Joseph T. Hallinan’s book, Why We Make Mistakes is a good starting point.
Dealing with the mistakes that occur requires acknowledgement of the error and appropriate actions to rectify the mistake. This applies equally to you, your team members and other stakeholders. The biggest mistake is expecting perfection (ie, the absence of mistakes)! The second biggest is failing to acknowledge a mistake once it has happened; as Confucius said “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake.”
So the next time the wheels fall off your project because someone made a mistake, rather than blaming the person, recognise mistakes are normal and be prepared to deal with ‘normality’.