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Met de steun van:

Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat.

The zone of death, the bit of the world that surpasses 8000 m, is a brutal environment. Every step could be your last. Making a mistake could be deadly. Yet, even in those surroundings, mistakes are an essential part of the learning process. I learnt to warm up my mittens in the morning before leaving my tent, after having attempted to keep my hands warm by putting them into mittens at -40 degrees C. For ten minutes, those mittens sucked all the body heat out of my hands and my fingers nearly froze off. Since then, I tuck my mittens into my sleeping bag at night. In the morning they might not be smelling fresh, but my hands are warm.

People would rather be competent in the wrong things, than incompetent in the right things. Yet it is only by doing the right things, even when currently incompetent, that we will develop the right competencies. By avoiding every possible mistake, companies force themselves to stay within their comfort zone. By making mistakes, admitting them, and trying a different solution the next time, a company builds new competences. You cannot learn to climb without falling.

It is more important to learn quickly from small experiments than to avoid mistakes. It has always been this way, but in a volatile world in which the customer demand and the competition’s offer evolve quickly , the speed of learning is a matter of survival. It is better not to evaluate experiments based on Return on Investment (RoI) but rather on Return on Failure (RoF). Not “How much money did the experiment make us?” but rather “How much did we learn?” will make your company more flexible and resilient for the future.

If you care about your colleagues, you share your mistakes with them. Not to satisfy an urge to mock you, but to give them the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and thus increase the RoF.

Making mistakes costs money in the short term. For quarterly results, it can be an attractive strategy to avoid them. But not learning anything costs more in the long term. In the past, I have worked for a company whose focus shifted from avoiding mistakes to covering them up. That works neither in the short nor the long term.

Family businesses are usually shielded from short-term pressures of the stock market and financial analysts. The downside is that they have less access to external money jars to finance large scale projects. They can compensate for that by developing a long-term vision with room for small experiments with a high RoF.

It takes some time to create a company culture where learning from and sharing mistakes is embraced, but a wise Chinese man once said: “The best moment to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best moment is today.”

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