Is learning from mistakes overrated?

Is the current “error culture” overrated?

Ralf Metz: “A culture of error is about allowing experiments. But that only works if I can fail. "

The word error culture has appeared more and more frequently in recent years. Some find it completely overrated and see it as an excuse to hide their own incompetence. Others see it as the solution for more innovation. Neither of these apply to me. A culture of error is about allowing experiments. But that only works if I can fail and learn new things from it. Basically there are two challenges in the word error culture:

1. «Error» has a negative impact

This is especially true in German-speaking countries. Because failure means doing something wrong. Wrong means bad and at the same time presupposes a reference value of what is wrong or right. Conversely, this means: If I have no reference value, it cannot be an error. So I work with assumptions, ideas and theses. Based on knowledge and experience, I define a path and try it out. If I don't achieve my goal with this, I'll fail - a mistake.

From a business perspective, it makes sense to minimize errors. However, it makes just as much sense to allow error to enable learning. The biggest brake on innovation is the conviction that you can plan innovation precisely. To enable innovation, I don't need a culture of mistakes, but a learning culture.

2. Culture is only available as a complete package

In the prevailing management paradigm, increasing efficiency, controlling, measuring, planning, punishing and rewarding are still very common. It's in the company's DNA. So it is not surprising that, if possible, everything should be covered by processes and specifications. From this paradigm, the idea of ​​failure sounds like waste. But a learning culture doesn't work without the possibility of failure.

Companies that want to establish agile work, for example, move in this area of ​​tension: people are given more responsibility and are allowed to try things out. However, if the management system adheres to traditional beliefs from the “Command and Control” modular system, agility is only a means to an end in order to maintain the existing management system. And that can only work to a limited extent.

Conclusion: A learning culture cannot be bought as a small “plug & play” package. Instead of creating small, isolated islands on which experiments can be carried out, the sustainable adaptation of the framework conditions promises significantly more success. If management sets a good example and makes its own mistakes transparent, some hurdles have been overcome on the way to becoming a learning organization.