At one ballroom dance competition, I made so many mistakes in my mambo (at the time my most terrifying dance) that I despaired of making the “finals,” which included only the top six couples. I whined to my teacher that I knew I wouldn’t “place” (i.e., first, second or third in the finals) because of my mistakes. Well, lo and behold, I won first place. You’d think I would have been ecstatic. I wasn’t. I was bewildered that the judges awarded me a first place when I knew I didn’t deserve it. My teacher laughed when I told him I wanted to return my award. He explained that I won because I danced full out, communicated an understanding of the character of the dance, and showed that I was enjoying myself, not because I didn’t make any mistakes. That was a big revelation to me, and it has changed my approach in business.
Now, when I’m at work, I try to focus on executing a task full out and fearlessly rather than worrying about doing it perfectly, which would just make everyone around me afraid of making a mistake and, therefore, unwilling to risk trying innovative new ways to promote and market our clients. The process of producing breakthrough public relations and marketing is often messy because you’re not following a tried and true path; you’re pioneering a new one.
Requiring that the process of innovation be error-free crimps creativity and risk-taking. This, more than making mistakes, is what inhibits growth and innovation.