The Latitude to Make Mistakes

I had a chat with someone who’s early in her career. She’s evaluating a variety of career paths, including working for a start-up or a venture capital firm. When asked what she was looking for in her next opportunity, she said one thing that stuck with me. She wants to be at a place where she has the latitude to make mistakes and perfection isn’t the expectation.

People learn by doing. Sometimes that means the outcome won’t be as planned. When that happens, people often reflect to figure out what they did wrong. Environments that allow for mistakes also allow for learning and growth. They have a culture of bias toward action. People feel empowered to try new things and experiment. When perfection is the expectation or mistakes are viewed negatively, the opposite culture is the result. People hesitate to act until they’re confident the outcome will be what they want. They’re less likely to experiment. Managers often end up involved in every decision made, which makes things slower and more bureaucratic.

Unexpected outcomes aren’t mistakes unless you don’t learn anything from them. I prefer to think of them as slightly painful learning experiences. Environments that embrace learning from doing instead of perfection attract the best people and can produce outsize outcomes.