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Can You Be Better by Mistake?

Author: Bob Etier
Published: July 20, 2011 at 4:53 pm

One day, many years ago, I had to deliver an item to an address on Essex Street. In error, I drove down Passaic Street. Due to that mistake, I have a college degree. And I haven’t made a mistake since.

Okay, that last sentence was a lie. I’ve made lots of mistakes, and many of them resulted in lost time or materials. Many also triggered happy consequences. Have you ever made a wrong turn only to discover a shortcut or a great restaurant? People wouldn’t beat themselves up for that type of mistake, but a wrong turn that cost them five minutes is perceived as the ultimate in stupidity.

Thomas Edison didn’t feel he made mistakes; he made attempts. And each attempt led to an improvement on his project. His attitude is reflected in the philosophy he expressed, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.” When considering the emphasis on results, Edison said, “Results! Why man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.”

Edison’s thoughts are reflected in Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong by Alina Tugend. Tugend can speak from experience: it was her own mistake that lead her to consider the subject.

Tugend emphasizes that mistakes are a part of life, and while all aren’t acceptable (errors by surgeons or pilots, for example), most are unexceptional. Providing examples of mistakes throughout history and explanations of the different types of mistakes (and why we make them), she succeeds in demythologizing concepts about human errors. Tugend also expounds on the problems with praise, the myth of perfection, and the values of encouragement.

Reading Better by Mistake will not make you mistake-proof, but it may make you more understanding (and forgiving) of the mistakes you and those around you sometimes commit. We choose how we react to blunders—will we agonize over them or consider them lessons learned? Better by Mistake is an excellent resource for people who want to learn from their faux pas.


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Article Author: Bob Etier

Two words describe Bob Etier: "female" and "weird." Like many freelance writers, there's something about her that isn't quite right. Read her stuff and find out what.

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