Let’s face it; we all hate making mistakes. As a matter of fact, we probably fear mistakes a little too much. Collaboration is a near perfect area where mistakes are possible because so much of its process depends on making decisions about the unknown. There is no simple rule book that would guide every collaboration toward paying a dividend. If there were such fortune, then collaboration would not be relevant to competition. Competitive gains are made by taking risks and investing in innovation. And, in the words of author and futurist Neil Stephenson, ‘you cannot innovate on a whim’.
So, what to do with mistakes? Most of us pay lip service to what is largely accepted as a wise thing to do: that is, learn from our mistakes. Frank introspection, or a head count in our environment will paint a different picture. We do not learn! This is because we think mistakes are dreadful and the only thing worth taking away from them is how to avoid making the same ones again. We rarely analyse our mistakes. Examining the many excellent elements of mistakes can be immensely useful.
One of the most common reasons for failure can be found in businesses across all sectors alike where the focus on a ‘quick win’ is paramount. But why such an obsessive focus on quick wins? In my experience I find that quick wins normally tend to reveal a lack of depth in strategy and in the skills needed for lasting results, and perhaps the abovementioned poor attitude.
Long term results do not emerge from the hype surrounding easy pickings. In fact, all too often quick wins rarely lead to anything substantial. While making fast results may be one area where collaboration can lend itself to mistakes, good collaboration should nevertheless seek to avoid it. Seeking fast results in collaboration can expose all stakeholders to a range of risks that can easily lead to mistakes. Take trust, for instance. Collaborators should be able to develop trust sufficiently well before they can express their full potential; especially when it comes to the creative and innovative thinking that collaboration thrives on.
Mistakes should not prevent collaboration from developing. In fact collaboration should allow for a broadened approach to mistakes. Collaborators need to accept that mistakes need to occur as a normal process in trust building, exploration and trials that naturally occur when different enterprises with different corporate cultures come into contact. In collaboration many things are tested. Allowing mistakes to be part of the process is what makes collaboration a distinctly different strategy. If there has ever been a good time to apply James Joyce’s maxim ‘mistakes are the portals of discovery’, then this is it.