TPS Benchmarking

Learning Lessons from Big Mistakes

By Jon Miller Published on August 7th, 2006

I made a big mistake last week. Apologies were made. Lessons were learned. Errors in judgment are revealing mistakes to learn from, since in your your state of mind at the time you were not in error. The kaizen philosophy requires that we learn from both our mistakes and our good decisions.
Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience? These are generous and courageous words from the late industrialist Thomas J. Watson, who built IBM.
Although we’re not IBM and we can’t afford nearly so many zeros on the mistakes we make, I try to live by these words. When the mistakes are mine, firing isn’t really a productive option anyway. I try to understand the root cause my mistakes so the fix can be more than “I’ll try harder.”
What have I learned in this particular case? The poet T.S. Eliot said The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: Humility is endless. Humility is a difficult concept for many people. In this case it might mean “think of others first” or “always be grateful” or “recognize the limit of your ability to make important decision while jet-lagged”.

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