“We live in an error culture.” “You only get better by making mistakes.” “I you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn.” These and other words of wisdom can be found in many places. Thy also sound coherent and sensible. After all, there is nothing more annoying than when colleagues cover up mistakes and as a consequence, you run into problems yourself. If everyone deals openly with mistakes, that takes a lot of pressure off of everyone. That’s the theory.
But then, at some point, the day comes when you yourself have (really) missed the mark. This is often followed by the perfectly understandable human reaction of self-protection: “I really can’t do anything about that! Who could have known that? That is clearly the fault of the customer/partner/colleague!” This demonstrates a rather impressive human ability–to protect our own egos, we simply keep telling ourselves that others are to blame until we actually believe it. Unfortunately, it is also very likely that the mistake will then be repeated. As a result of this self-protection, the number of fools and ignoramuses increases steadily.
However, if you really get on your ego’s toes and honestly question yourself, interesting (sometimes painful) insights arise, such as “I was too unfocused,” “I wasn’t prepared enough,” “I didn’t communicate clearly enough,” or “As a customer, I would have expected better.” Honestly admitting these things to yourself and analyzing them with your ego is annoying and can be mighty exhausting, but it helps immensely in the long run.
At Peerox, we believe in speed. We know we don’t have the time or resources to avoid every conceivable mistake in advance. That means we deliberately take risks, try, and fail. We fail all the time and make mistakes all the time. But this is the only way we can find out together what really works. It actually takes more time to cover up mistakes than to try something out and perhaps fail a few times. We are true to the motto, “If we don’t make mistakes, we’re too slow!”
For this strategy, three things are absolutely important for us:
- We consciously take risks and assess possible errors/damage! We must not naively run into mistakes that may threaten our existence.
- We learn together from our own mistakes and those of our colleagues. We take every opportunity to develop new solution strategies.
- We trust each other. Dealing openly with one’s own shortcomings requires a very special team spirit. Each individual Peer protects and promotes this sensitive culture.
In order to live this error culture in the team, some companies have, for example, a so-called “Fuck-up Hour”. People talk about failures together, learn from them and build trust in themselves, each other, and the team as a whole.
At Peerox, the concept of the “Fuck-up Hour” was not radical enough for us. After all, the lessons learned are limited to the part of the team present at the meeting. Absent or new Peers hardly have the opportunity to learn about the failures. For this reason, we maintain a digital “Fuck-up Diary”. This is an internal wiki page. The advantages of written documentation are obvious:
- Through the process of writing things down, you reflect on yourself much more. You rethink individual decisions, prerequisites, conclusions, and, above all, the resulting lessons.
- Through our daily work in the wiki, the wiki entries from the Fuck-up Diary are presented again and again in searches on similar topics. This also means that our future Peers will keep stumbling across our mistakes from the past.
- By constantly reviewing the mistakes we have already made, we can directly apply the lessons we learned in future situations.
- Your own ego is significantly more stressed. Letting your pants down like this in front of all your current and future Peers requires a lot of self-reflection, confidence, and courage.
As founders and managing directors, we naturally wrote the first entries. We honestly admit that we weren’t sure at the time whether we weren’t putting too much on the team. Maybe our contributions would remain the only contributions and the whole idea would go up in smoke. But those who know us know that the possibility of embarrassing ourselves to the bone has never been a reason not to do something. Besides, we were pretty sure that if something like this could work with any team, it would work with ours.
Here, too, we were not disappointed in our hopes. The next, relentlessly honest posts followed quite quickly. We talk, discuss, and laugh about our missteps. In this way, we build up a great deal of trust within our team, and create a real culture of mistakes.