Mistakes Can Be Portals of Discovery

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Imagine an organization as a ship sailing on the ocean. All of the personnel on board, have one over-arching responsibility: Do not make a hole in the ship!

When working above the waterline, however, making a mistake and creating a hole in the side of the ship will have no serious consequences. We’ll have the time to repair the hole, learn and sail on. Below the waterline, an action that creates a hole could, quite literally, sink us.

Business Insider identified these 3 inventions that started as above-the-waterline “mistakes” and had below-the-waterline impact:

Sir Alexander Fleming: Before discarding a contaminated petri dish, Fleming noticed a specific mold dissolving all the bacteria it touched. Fleming went on to discover the mold contained penicillin.

Ruth Wakefield: While baking a batch of chocolate cookies, Ruth Wakefield realized she was out of baker’s chocolate and decided to substitute sweetened chocolate instead. The sweetened chocolate did not melt leaving crunchy chocolate morsels. Chocolate chip cookies were created.

Spencer Silver: After setting out to make a stronger adhesive, Spencer Silver, a researcher in 3M Laboratories, actually created a weaker adhesive. Years later a colleague spread the adhesive on little pieces of paper. Post-It notes were born.

Sometimes mistakes feel bigger than life, especially when we mix them with embarrassment or disappointment. Most mistakes are only mistakes when we stop forward progress and walk away without getting the lesson or the benefit.

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