As a person who has made and consistently makes many mistakes I need to be reminded of the important benefit of mistake making.

Mistakes are opportunities for important course corrections in our lives that we only recognize (unfortunately) when jolted by the pain of some consequences or loss of resources (time, energy, friends).

eraserIn fact, mistakes can spur great ideas that would otherwise be missed.  These “happy accidents” are generated in everyday conversations or observations, but looking for these opportunities is a skill one needs to cultivate.

Percy Le Baron Spencer was a Raytheon scientist during WWII who was working on a radar system to help detect Nazi aircraft for the allied armies.  He was working with a large magnetron to create the system.  In the course of an average day he discovered that a candy bar that he had in his pocket while standing near the magnetron had melted and ruined his pants.  This mistake sparked an idea that led to the invention of the microwave oven, which in turn led to the creation of a successful enterprise.

There is the classic story of accidentally leaving milk to sour leading to the creation of a “happy accident” we now call cottage cheese.  Or the even more delicious mistake of Reese’s mixing chocolate and peanut butter.

A bad batch of adhesive, that was not sticky enough, led to the creation of the sticky note by 3M.  Its main selling point was it’s temporary stickiness which at the time was a “mistake”.

Scientists working on undersea sonar discovered that the same technology could be used to auto-tune voices like T-Pain.  Well I guess that is an example of one mistake leading to another.

So embrace mistakes.  Your next one could be your big break.

photo credit: Carlos Smith via photopin cc