Innovation and error culture go hand in hand: How to learn innovatively from mistakes

A careless moment here, one bad decision there - and already a mistake can no longer be avoided. The first thought is often that this misstep must have consequences. But does it really have to? Is assigning blame the right thing to do? Wouldn't it make more sense to look for the reasons for the failure and even find potential for development in them?

This basic concept is addressed by a positive error culture. The focus here is not on avoiding mistakes. Rather, it is about learning from mistakes. In this article, you will learn how you can fully exploit the innovative power of mistakes in your company.

Table of Contents

Error culture: What does it mean?

In very general terms, a culture of error is about how societies and social systems deal with mistakes and their consequences. A company is a social system in its own right – with its own corporate culture. It goes without saying that a company can develop its own error culture.

But beware: Not every company where errors occur also has a constructive error culture. Often, error management is only about avoiding mistakes. If they do happen, the only reaction is to punish them. In this case, working out the cause of the errors is not a priority. As a result, employees have no chance to learn from mishaps.

However, mistakes are a common occurrence in everyday work. And some mistakes are almost unavoidable. Wouldn’t it make more sense to deal with the reasons for the failure? This is the only way to find a solution together with your team and to learn from the failures. With this approach, you will be able to turn mistakes into a source of innovation.

Failure Error Culture

Search for solutions instead of fear: the added value of a lived error culture

Managers who decide to work with their team on an innovative error culture benefit enormously from this. When employees have to admit to making a mistake, they often feel fear. They fear possible consequences.

The result: If the first reaction to mistakes is to punish someone, team members would rather keep quiet about a misstep than openly admit to it. As a result, a company may accumulate numerous small failures – until things go bust with a big bang.

A better approach is to communicate from the outset that mistakes are allowed. This doesn’t just take away the fear of colleagues dealing with mistakes, it also gives them the space to talk openly about mishaps. It is then possible to work together to find solutions. Looking at it this way, mistakes hold tremendous potential for innovation.

If you ask yourself what exactly went wrong and how you can do it better next time, you will certainly not make the same mistake twice. In this way, you can turn bad decisions into learning opportunities.

                                       The motto then is a desire to learn instead of a fear of failure.

This will give your colleagues room for courageous creativity. After all, if you don’t have to be afraid of mistakes, you’re more likely to take new paths – and possibly find innovative ideas along the way.

Error culture and customer-centric working: Is there a connection?

If you want to work in a customer-centric way, a well-lived error culture is indispensable. The transparency that this creates in the team also has an impact on contact with your customers.

Unless your company talks about the culture of failure, this is also a stumbling block for successfully managed customer relationships. After all, failures don’t just happen within the team. Often, customers themselves become witnesses to certain mistakes. This makes it all the more important for managers to clearly specify how to deal with such situations and what reactions are appropriate.

When your customers see that you deal with mistakes constructively and try to learn from them, their confidence in your company will be strengthened in the long run. Innovative ideas and concepts for a successful error culture therefore help you to improve your customer relationships. Various measures are available to bring you closer to a positive error culture.

Innovation by error culture is just the beginning

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5 steps towards a positive error culture in your own company

Theory is one thing. Now how do you manage to establish an innovative error culture in your company? Among other things, this depends on where you and your team currently stand. Based on this, transparent framework conditions can be established for the new error culture. Like this, every employee will know how to deal with mistakes in the future. Security and confidence then take the place of the fear of mistakes.

Error culture circle

1. status check: the status quo put to the test

When it comes to error culture, every company starts at a different point. If errors were previously punished rigorously and then checked off as done, there is still a long way to go. The situation is different if feedback and transparent communication have been part of organizations for a long time. In that case, a big step has already been taken in the direction of a culture of error.

To take a closer look at the status quo, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of errors occur in my company?
  • Are there processes in which errors are particularly frequent?
  • How are the errors recorded?
  • How high is the error tolerance?
  • Does the company take up the learning opportunities that the errors bring with them?
  • How satisfied are the people in the company with the error culture?

Do you want to ask your colleagues directly what their opinion is on error management in the company? Then remember to protect their anonymity. You can do this, say, with an anonymous online survey. Alternatively, you can set up a box in the office into which notes can be dropped. If you protect the privacy, honest and fearless answers will be given. Otherwise, you may only receive socially desirable answers – a real insight is then not possible.

2. looking ahead: defining transparent framework conditions

So now you know where you and your team stand. Time to clarify where you want to go. An important part of a constructive error culture is its transparency. That’s why you should make sure that the process is comprehensible when you define the framework conditions. Clear processes and fixed contact persons provide orientation in the new corporate culture.

On the one hand, it is important to determine which mishaps are to be classified as errors in the first place. Is a spelling mistake in an official letter already reason enough for a feedback meeting? At what point do you start talking about failure, mistakes and mistakes? Give your employees peace of mind by clearly communicating at what point a behavior is considered erroneous.

Within the framework of error management, it also makes sense to discuss what consequences are associated with certain missteps. Even a positive view of the innovative power of errors does not rule out the possibility that supervisors may have to take action from time to time – for example, in the case of legal or ethical violations.

If an employee makes a human error, however, it is important for him to know that he is not directly threatened with dismissal. Let your team feel that the opportunity for further development is the focus.

3. facts instead of emotions: Space for factual discussions

Managing mistakes is a volatile topic primarily because of the emotions involved. Colleagues often feel guilt, shame or fear when they have to admit mistakes. What can managers do about it? Look at mistakes on a factual level and work together to find solutions. An important point of a positive error culture is: The error is the problem – regardless of the person associated with it.

In this way, you and your team can look at the following questions in an objective manner:

  • Where exactly did something go wrong?
  • What are the factual reasons for this?
  • How can we reach our goal despite the mistake?
  • How can such slip-ups be avoided in the future?


You now see: The focus is not on who did something, but on how it came about in the first place. In other words, the focus is on the action and not on the person. Those responsible then do not feel personally attacked – the negative emotions slowly disappear and make room for courage and trust.

Once you take the emotional explosiveness out of the reaction to mistakes, innovation can be created out of them. The focus on the solution is crucial here. This sends a clear message to your team: No matter what happened, we will learn from it and do it better in the future.

4. error detection in everyday life: keeping in touch through feedback

The foundation for an innovative error culture in your company has been set. Now these ideas just need to find their way into everyday work. To do this, it is important to record failures throughout. Instead of listing everything that went wrong at the end of a large project, you should take action during the project. Write down mistakes objectively and talk about them with your team.

Error management is also closely linked to feedback. Regular feedback is the only way for employees to find out how their managers rate their performance. Of course, it is important to talk about mistakes.

But don’t forget to focus primarily on the positive aspects as well. After all, a constructive error culture is not just about talking about mishaps incessantly. To keep the team motivated, you should also emphasize the successes in finding solutions.

5. role model function: when the manager lives error culture

Whenever you work in a team, you as a leader always have a special role to play: that of role model. Because only if you hold yourself to your own standards will the others do the same. If you conceal your own mistakes, your employees’ trust in you will be shaken.

You have failed at one point? You lack an idea how to correct a mistake? Then talk about it with your team. In other words, you not only appear transparent and human, but also show that the joint search for solutions is important to you.

Although a failure does not originate with your superiors, the manager is still a role model. Because what counts now is how you react to a misstep. Disappointment and anger have no place in a positive culture of mistakes. Instead, you show with a friendly and appreciative tone that you can react constructively to a faux pas. Over time, your employees will do the same.

The power of failure: Error culture as a source of innovation

A culture that acknowledges mistakes and focuses on the learning opportunities they contain is open to innovation. After all, fear of consequences puts the brakes on employees’ creative courage. On the other hand, if mistakes are considered human and there are clear rules for dealing with failures, there is more room for development. The mistakes themselves also contain great learning potential: take a look at what exactly went wrong and you will know how to do things better in the future.

However, a constructive error culture does not emerge overnight. This paradigm shift takes time. It is therefore all the more important for managers to communicate clearly from the outset how mistakes should ideally be dealt with. Step by step, the team can then move toward an innovative error culture. Supervisors play an important role in the transformation: They set a positive example and show how creative ideas and possible solutions can be derived from mistakes.


About Me

As a Growth Marketing & Customer Insights expert, I experience the importance of a customer-centric product and marketing strategy on a daily basis.

In combination with agile optimization processes and a corporate culture that is open to experimentation, you will bring your growth fully on track.


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