Let’s talk about something we don’t like to talk about (well, maybe you do, but from my experience, it’s like talking about death in a funeral home – everyone knows it’s always a possibility, but speaking it is verboten) — messing up.

Not failure, per se. Failure feels to me like something that didn’t work from top to bottom but no one stopped the train as it barreled over the cliff. Messing up is making a mistake, trusting in the outcome, not keeping a close enough eye on something, miscommunication, dropped deadlines, forgetting a detail, passing something off to someone who can’t handle it. These things, these very everyday things, are what I think of when I think about messing up.

And I’ll start our little game by admitting up front that I have messed up. Almost all of those things in my list above I have done. I have also finished meetings before I completely understood the client’s needs and expectations. I have allowed vendors to tell me everything was going fine without asking for more details. I have been distracted by other projects and let my focus slip.

Yep. I have done those things, and not always in the distant past.

And I guarantee that I have learned from every mistake.

The only place I’ve ever seen a discussion of these kinds of issues is when Fast Company talks about Toyota. For all the success Toyota has found from openly and frankly evaluating mistakes (seemingly without spin), I have not heard much about other companies using these ideas.

The only place I’ve heard of something like that is in a doctor’s Morbidity and Mortality conference when a patient dies (a great insider’s viewpoint of an M&M is Atul Gawande’s “Complications”). The doctors get together behind closed doors (away from patients and their lawyers) and talk about things that could have been done better purely in the hopes of educating each other. It guarantees that education never stops, it forces every one to be part of the solution, because you know one day you will be the subject of everyone’s scrutiny.

At my current position, we do “post event” work. But its mostly about counting guests and talking about how to make sure there was enough fruit at the event, or how many registrants needed additional help. It’s fine to do this level of examination on the execution level, but not enough feedback or discussion as to how we conceptualized the event, how we marketed it, how we chose the event, or even how we designated participants. It’s not a failure because the event brought in the 50 people we expected it to bring in, but that expectation was a function of the event. No one said, “How do we get 1,000 people to attend an event and what would that event look like?”

Do we screw up by not asking those kinds of questions? I wonder what it would take to create those conversations on a regular basis? I wonder if we have the culture that will keep people from pointing fingers and make people hear other ideas?