Dealing with mistakes in a relaxed manner – corporate culture and “German Angst”

Error culture as the basis for success - "Fall down, get up, fix your crown and keep running!"

… is the motto of many successful people and the unofficial motto of a new error culture. A leitmotif that is becoming increasingly important for entire companies and individual employees under the pressure to change brought about by digitization and Past-C19.

Companies and employees who made mistakes or even failed were often ridiculed. Failure or making mistakes does not have to be a disadvantage. Relaxed failure brings insight, maturity and experience. Particularly in digital transformation projects, failure and making mistakes are simply part of the game. Only by celebrating successes and at the same time being prepared to risk failure and mistakes can real innovations and sustainable change be created and the upcoming hurdles of digitization be overcome. Fear of failure and mistakes too often means crawling instead of walking upright and often leads companies and employees to copy solutions only after someone else has already designed and successfully implemented them. Business can no longer afford this in times of Past-C19, supply chain issues, international competitors, and changing customer needs and behaviors.

Now, who invented the quote “Fall down, get up, fix your crown and keep running!” will probably never be determined. It has gone from being a funny and probably spontaneous saying to a central guiding principle of a new mindset and a more courageous basic attitude in management. Some “failures” of yesterday, who are very successful managers today, are celebrated like pop stars at FuckUp nights and innovation conferences. Videos with lectures on the topic of making mistakes and failing are viewed millions of times on YouTube. The stories of failure and dramatic mistakes are not only very instructive, but they entertain and are fun. Many companies are currently on their way from “German Angst” to a more courageous approach to failure and mistakes.

The biggest mistakes in digitization projects – priming effect

Time and again, I was consulted on the selection of employees for digitization projects. Here, I made it too easy for myself and thus repeatedly started making the same mistake: I favored young over older employees to work on projects. Often, the younger employees were more open and outgoing, and I interpreted the reticence of the mostly older employees as less motivated or even reserved.

A stupid and actually avoidable mistake! Reticence can of course mean less motivated, but it is not automatically so. Reluctance on the part of my counterpart can have many, also many positive, reasons. It is first a clear sign that I need to invest more in information, arguments and even appreciation. Quick commitment can be a blessing, but also a false friend.

The Priming Effect

Over time, a so-called priming effect sets in with both “younger” and “older” employees. To illustrate the priming effect, the well-known example of the math problem for blond women is usually found in the media. If blond, female test subjects are told that blond women are stupid, the result is that the women perform worse in the test than if they had not been confronted with this assertion. In digitization projects, something similar fits with the young and motivated as well as with the older and reserved employees. With the motivated employees, motivation is increased and with the reserved employees, restraint is increased. The false image that change and digitization are age- and generation-dependent becomes entrenched.

My learning from this mistake: Do not draw too quick or wrong conclusions from age, quick commitment and imposed motivation. Opportunities and spaces must be created in companies that challenge and promote employees’ competencies. Employees need an individual and adapted approach. Honest appreciation can never be given too much. And age does not always play a role.

New mindset: mistakes are good if you learn from them

When penguins are hungry, they have to leave the safe ice floe and jump into the cold water to hunt fish. Usually, it’s not a single penguin that jumps into the water, but a complete group. Unfortunately, they don’t know whether a predator such as a leopard seal has been waiting for just this moment under the ice floe and is now hunting for food itself. The penguins would be smarter if, in the event of possible danger, a single penguin jumps into the cold water first, while his fellow penguins wait patiently on the safe ice floe As soon as it is clear that no enemy is lurking in hiding, all the other animals follow. This protects the community and helps each other. And this is how many entrepreneurs act, by waiting to see what the top dog does.

Companies can learn from penguins. In fast-changing times, many projects should be tackled simultaneously. However, little is usually learned from mistakes in unsuccessful projects, as these are often concealed by those responsible for the mistakes for fear of disadvantages. The consequences are fatal for the organization. The same mistakes are repeated again and again in future or parallel projects. A learning organization is not possible. Companies like Google want to break through this error dynamic and a few years ago offered an unusual prize, the so-called “Penguin Award”. Every employee can present a project that has really failed. Instead of criticism and ridicule, lessons are learned from mistakes and the courage to openly communicate mistakes is rewarded. A method and culture from which other companies can learn.

Provided that courageous leaders lead the way and create a positive culture of error. A fear-free environment, where not only success factors are searched for and successful projects are given a stage, but where mistakes are consciously communicated openly, analyzed and used for learning. True to the motto; you can learn from mistakes!

Axel Liebetrau arbeitet seit 20 Jahren als professioneller Futurist , gefragter Keynote Speaker und Start-up-Unternehmer aus Leidenschaft. Er erhielt als erster Futurist im deutschsprachigen Raum den CSP - Certified Speaking Professional.

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