A new year is upon us, and in the spirit of the season, I want to propose a resolution: how to cut down on the wrong kinds of mistakes. To begin this mission, you need to first recognize the four different types of mistakes that exist.
The dichotomy of the word “mistake” is interesting. On one hand, we need to experience failure in order to learn and get better. There’s no better teacher than a generous swig of failure when faced with a new challenge. But not all mistakes are created equal. Commit too many of the wrong kind and you could find yourself in a pickle.
Full disclosure: I struggled to find reputable sources on this topic (*see editors notes below), so I admit my findings come from personal experiences of myself and others.
But hey, you made it this far…so why not see if we’re on to something?
1. Lazy Mistakes
Arguably the most frustrating mistakes are the ones that stem purely from a lack of effort. Examples in this category are ample: typos in an email, taking crooked photos and tripping over your untied shoelaces all apply.
Lazy mistakes are highly avoidable and require low effort to fix. Often these mistakes can be corrected through mindfulness and attention to detail.
2. Ignorant Mistakes
Sometimes mistakes can occur simply because you don’t know they exist. Ever put metal in a microwave as a kid? Or – for my fellow marketers – how about targeting grandparents on instagram? These are some standard examples of ignorant mistakes.
Ignorant mistakes are difficult to avoid, but require less effort to remedy. While typically unpleasant, these blunders can provide a valuable learning experience. The key to correcting these mistakes is to commit them to memory and minimize repetition.
But remember: you can only make ignorant mistakes once. Afterwards, they simply become lazy ones.
3. Beginner Mistakes
Unlike the previous two entries, beginner mistakes are wholly intentional. These are the types of errors that come from trying to learn something new. My favorite example is learning a new instrument. No matter how many YouTube videos you watch, you’re not going to be able to play the Free Bird solo on your first try. (Link for the uninitiated.)
Beginner mistakes are difficult to avoid and require higher effort to resolve. Luckily, these are the types of mistakes that are often encouraged by society. When you hear startup gurus tell you to “fail fast” and “leave your comfort zone”, they are usually referencing beginner mistakes.
4. Systemic Mistakes
The most heartbreaking kind of error, a systemic mistake is one you typically never see coming. They occur when you do everything right, but end up with an undesired outcome due to a faulty system. Imagine you start a hip new diet and follow it to the T – only to discover the science was all wrong as you watch the scale tick up instead of down.
Systemic mistakes are incredibly difficult to identify and fix on your own. They often require outside forces and observers. The best way to protect yourself is to measure outcomes regularly and create a consistent feedback loop with your peers.
Your strongest weapons against making unfavorable mistakes in 2016 are awareness, effort and repetition. Identify the areas that plague you the most and begin to write them down. Then, apply the right processes to fix the errors. Continue to practice this effort until doing the right tasks become second nature.
Cheers to a great (and hopefully a mistake-free) year ahead!
*Author’s Edit: Not long after this article was finished and in review, I stumbled upon a nearly identical piece published about a month ago. They seemed to list similar insights, albeit with admittedly craftier names.
And as always, I’d love to hear your comments below.