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Mistakes can be the start of something good

Think a mistake is the end of the world? In some cases, making a mistake (and learning from it) can be the best thing to happen to you.

Think a mistake is the end of the world? In some cases, making a mistake (and learning from it)  can be the best thing to happen to you.

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Back in the 1950s, a secretary and commercial artist named Bette Clair McMurray started using a tempera water-based paint to correct her typing mistakes. By 1956, she began marketing this typewriter correction fluid as Liquid Paper. She sold it to the Gillette Corporation in 1979 for $47.5 million. (On a side note, she was also the mother of Michael Nesmith, a member of the ‘60s pop group The Monkees. Feel free to throw that little bit of trivia out Cliff Claven-style at your next gathering and watch everyone’s eyes grow wider as they ask, “What in the world is a Monkee?” or, even worse, “What in the world is a typewriter?”)

The moral of this blog is not that you can make mistakes as long as you find an ingenious way to cover them up. The moral is that mistakes are often the genesis of bigger and better things.

Out of necessity, IT is populated by perfectionists. They operate in a scientific world where the line between correct and incorrect is a little more distinct. This can cause IT pros to fear mistakes more than others. But mistakes, if you learn from them, allow you to hone future actions -- something that will help ensure even greater success eventually.

To see this statement in action, one has to look no further than Mr. Gates. Here's an example, borrowed from Evan Carmichael's blog:

A long-time project of Gates’, an APL interpreter that he had almost finished designing, never actually got its feet off the ground. Despite Gates’ hard work, it was decided that there was too small a market for the product. Gates eventually got busy on another project and the APL faded into the past without ever having been shipped. On another similar occasion, Microsoft was contracted to write a code for machines manufactured by Texas Instruments. While they completed the product on time, Multiplan was a failure in the home computer market and the line was discontinued.

Gates learned from this mistake of creating software for 8-bit machines instead of the up and coming IBM PC generation. From that point on, whenever the idea for a new product line came about, Gates would ask himself, “Are we aiming too low, in terms of system requirements…is this another case like Multiplan?” With full confidence in his product, it was his strategy that Gates knew was flawed. And, it was that mistake that allowed Gates to make “one of the best decisions” he ever did. Gates chose to leave the world of DOS and focus solely on Windows and the future of graphical user interfaces.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

8 comments
vindog
vindog

...are great learning experiences. Mistakes that require a public flaying are seldom good for anything.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

In order to grow, we must change. Becoming better at what we do, becoming more effective at what we do, becoming more efficient at what we do. However, we chose to grow it must occur through change. All change involves risk. That's why we try to avoid it. That's why we are afraid of it. If you embrace risk (which you must in order to embrace change which in its turn is forced by embracing growth), then mistakes are inevitable. After all risk (properly stated) is a probability game. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. If you aren't prepared to make mistakes, to take losses then you aren't prepared to grow. (Learning just helps ensure there is always something you can take away from every loss).

soctuvan
soctuvan

I got my start in computers by reformatting my mom's 286 20 meg hard drive. Oops! Then I was introduced to (then) Norton utilities. What a life saver. Lesson learned was that the data wasn't actually erased but "coated" over and could still be retrievable. So now when a computer crashes I actually look forward to getting it fixed. I have a linux box at home that I don't mind trashing in the effort to have a totally tricked out desktop.

BlackKris
BlackKris

The nice thing about making the same mistake more than once, is that you know when to cringe.

dogknees
dogknees

If you've never made a mistake, you've never learned anything for yourself.

V
V

'Learning just help ensure there is always something you can take away from every loss' The banks lost money due to too much risk. And they took away..? more money. OURS! We lost, but I doubt the banks are going to change without being forced to.

vindog
vindog

700 Billion, now in the hands of the same people who mismanaged risk to start. Anybody feeling better with this cash injection? No? Whoops! We did it again. Hey, this worked so good, let's bailout every poorly managed automaker too.

V
V

Hey! I've mismanaged my credit card. Can you bail me out? Get lost bozo.

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