A learning journey


Creating a positive error culture

How confident do you feel to make a mistake at work? This seems to be a hard question for many people. We really dislike making mistakes and much more if it is noticed by others. But if mistakes are one of the bests ways of learning, why are we always afraid about it?

This is mostly because we live in a negative error culture. Since we are kids, we learn that making errors is bad. Gerd Gigerenzer, in his book “Risk Savvy: How to make good decisions”, gives a great example: Having surgery error and a plane crash, for the pilot there will be a committee that analyzes what went wrong in order to avoid making the same mistake again. The doctor will be sued and most likely go to jail.

But this is not a situation happening only for this kind of professionals; many people see this very frequently on their jobs, where they don’t have any support for knowing what can fail and how to prevent it. The problem about this is then people start making defensive decisions; playing it safe instead of choosing what is best for given scenario, because of the risk of being scolded or even worse, fired. We’re so worried that we try to just to cover our butt even when we are hurting our business.

Teams need to have an environment of trust and confidence, where each team member can express what they think is the best path to follow and why. Also, teams need to work on understanding what are the options to help you preventing from making mistakes. Let’s say that you need to deploy something to production, one way to help avoiding a catastrophe is having a checklist of what needs to be done previously and after the deployment, a list of the possible problems that can happen and the list of persons that need to ask for authorization for the downtime. In case something unexpected happens, instead of pointing fingers, we need to identify what the problem was and update our checklists and documents accordingly so we can prevent that from happening again.

This is called a positive error culture. It does not mean we can be irresponsible, not caring about or paying attention to what we are doing nor trying to avoid the consequences, but knowing that we will be able to make what we consider is the best informed decision. And in case something goes awry, you can be confident that your employer, leader or team is able to (and willing to) help determining what went wrong and how this can be avoided the next time.

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