Professor John Grout on Preventing Mistakes, Yet Learning From Them When They Happen

Professor John Grout on Preventing Mistakes, Yet Learning From Them When They Happen


Check out all episodes on the My Favorite Mistake main page.

My guest for Episode #186 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is John Grout. He is the former dean of the Campbell School of Business at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

He’s the current Chair of the Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Data Analytics Department and the David C. Garrett Jr. Professor of Business Administration. John has overseen the development, approval and implementation of Berry College’s Creative Technologies program and Berry’s makerspace, HackBerry Lab. 

Dr. Grout has researched mistake-proofing extensively and published numerous articles on mistake-proofing. In 2004, John received the Shingo Prize for his paper, “The Human Side of Mistake-Proofing” with Douglas Stewart. John has also consulted with a large variety of firms to mistake-proof their processes. Check out his website,

He’s also published “Mistake-Proofing the Design of Health Care Processes” a book that’s freely available online.

In this episode, John tells his favorite mistake story about using early mistakes to learn and then win a tower-building exercise, defeating a number of “A students” in the process. From John's story, what does that teach us about learning from mistakes — early and often — in a way that propels toward success? Why is this an entrepreneurship lesson (or a human lesson) and not just an engineering lesson?

We also talk about questions and topics including:

  • “Surprisingly, it’s the A students” who think they know how the world works
  • Knowing vs. Experimenting?
  • “It’s all about the scientific method” — Lean Startup
  • PDCA = Plan Do Check Adjust
  • Others didn’t observe and learn from your mistake?
  • Spaghetti building – kindergartners vs. MBA
  • TED talk — the god complex, trial and error
  • Small tests of change = mistake mitigation method
  • Chick-fil-A, ThedaCare, and rapid prototyping
  • ThedaCare stories
  • Adam Savage – Every Tool's a Hammer book
  • How do you define mistakes? Strict definition vs common definition?

mistakes — 

  1. (strict definition) conscious deliberation that leads to selecting the wrong intention. 
  2. (common definition) synonym for error. For example, the term mistake-proofing uses the common definition since mistake-proofing is used more to prevent slips than mistakes (using strict definition)
  • Errors – breaks down then into mistakes vs slips
  • Mistake – do what you intended to do
  • Slips — right intent but not executed well
  • How do you define “mistake proofing”?? Or Slip-Proofing
  • How do we decide if mistakes or slips are preventable? “Different vocabularies” for each…
  • Why are checklists the “weakest form of mistake proofing”?
  • Some recent examples you’ve seen of mistake proofing in everyday life?
  • Be careful signs… 
  • “How can I make this process fail? Make it fail in a benign way…”
  • The language around “mistake proofing” or “error proofing” vs.  — is it a mistake to say things like “fool proofing” or “idiot proofing”??

Scroll down to find:

  • Video of the episode
  • Quotes
  • How to subscribe
  • Full transcript

Find John on social media:

Watch the Full Episode:


"If you make a mistake early, it's low cost, you can recover from it. And things turned out great." - John Grout
"Checklists are a mistake proofing device, but they're the weakest one ever." - John Grout
"How can I make this process fail but fail in a way that's benign instead of fail in a way that's terrible?" - John Grout

Subscribe, Follow, Support, Rate, and Review!

Please follow, rate, and review via Apple Podcasts or Podchaser or your favorite app — that helps others find this content and you'll be sure to get future episodes as they are released weekly. You can also become a financial supporter of the show through

You can now sign up to get new episodes via email, to make sure you don't miss an episode.

This podcast is part of the Lean Communicators network.

Other Ways to Subscribe or Follow — Apps & Email

Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.