What if you did things wrong?

Dolls are supposed to be cute right? Not so according to UglyDolls. They designed their dolls to be the opposite of conventional wisdom.

UglyDolls might have asked themselves: What if we designed our product the wrong way? What if we made dolls that are ugly instead of cute?

According to WSJ, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is trying to capture mistakes like this, with the idea that making mistakes on purpose is something that all of us could be taught. Today the business school named the winners of its first Brilliant Mistakes Contest, which awarded prizes (including Southwest Airlines tickets, free courses and conference tickets, and lunch with a contest judge) to people whose mistakes were the most productive.

This is exactly the type of attitude that we need to nurture. To make it safe for people to fail. There was one interesting finding:

The contest also revealed that most people don’t understand what a brilliant mistake is, Schoemaker said, but he thinks it’s an important idea to learn. “All companies make mistakes—all people do—but from a corporate perspective, mistakes are company assets. The company paid for them, and it’s not OK to hide them,” he said. “So find the silver lining in your mistakes.”

A brilliant mistake is one that leads to a “Happy Accident”. Of course, these brilliant mistakes are completely unpredictable. That’s why it is important to play. To tinker. To just run with it and see where it takes you.

A little bit over a year ago, Stefan Lindegaard (@lindegaard), came up with the concept of ‘SmartFailing‘. Which is, I think, a great way to frame “Brilliant Mistakes”.

Going back to the question. If you want to be Brilliantly Wrong, the wrongness has to be in direct opposition to prevailing wisdom. Don’t do what others say, get out of your own way and follow your nose. A Happy Accident might be hidden in plain sight.

How are you stimulating Happy Accidents? Do you have your own Brilliant Mistakes Contest?

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Leading with questions

  • I’ve always liked the idea of reframing mistakes and failures into opportunities for success, or even success in their own right but form a different perspective. I read this recently:

    A young manager led a $10m program which failed in every way possible. Called into the CEOs office he said “I suppose you wan’t my resignation now?” to which the CEO replied “are you kidding! I just spent $10m educating you”

    • Hi Brendan,

      I like that quote. Don’t remember where I heard/read it before.

      The big thing about innovation, is creating the expectation of failure. People have to be aware that they may fail. And failure is learning. The question is: how fast can you learn?

      Cheers,

      Jorge