Mark Graban’s Upcoming Book: “The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation”

I'm writing a new book, inspired by the stories and lessons shared by the people I've interviewed in my podcast series called “My Favorite Mistake

That partial book cover shown above is just a teaser, as I am still iterating with a professional artist friend.

A culture of learning from mistakes means we will improve more, be more innovative — and that means more success.

“At last! A book about errors, flubs, and screwups that pushes beyond platitudes and actually shows how to enlist our mistakes as engines of learning, growth, and progress. Dive into The Mistakes That Make Us and discover the secrets to nurturing a psychologically safe environment that encourages the small experiments that lead to big breakthroughs.โ€

Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author of DRIVE, WHEN, and THE POWER OF REGRET

If you'd like to receive occasional updates about the project, including notification when the book is available for purchase, please fill out this form. The current draft book description can be found beneath the form.

Draft Book Description (A Work in Progress)

The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation

Author Mark Graban says itโ€™s time for organizations to select and build leaders who honor and cherish mistakes (and embrace the people who make them), helping us learn and adjust with the result of preventing future mistakes. We can encourage leaders to react constructively instead of punishing human error and honest mistakes (ranging from small slip-ups to decisions that turn out to be mistaken). 

The era of punishing people for mistakes needs to end. If punishing individuals for human error and bad decisions worked, we would have seen evidence of that by now. But here we are, still talking about mistakes. Itโ€™s time to be positive about mistakes.

We all make mistakes. Individuals often say things like, โ€œWe learn the most from our mistakes.โ€ Sadly, too many organizations still have unrealistic (and counterproductive) expectations of perfection. Weโ€™re not perfect and never will be. We can actually reduce and prevent mistakes (and perform better) when we embrace mistakes (and the people who make them) instead of punishing them. Instead of viewing mistakes as a step backward, we can turn them into stepping stones to success.

This doesnโ€™t mean weโ€™re giving people license to be reckless. Far from it. Organizations with a culture of learning from mistakes work diligently to prevent mistakes, using mistake-proofing methods, including checklists. They learn from small mistakes in a way that prevents catastrophes. 

Making a mistake can feel painfully negative at the time, but learning from the mistake turns it into something positive to cherish if not celebrate.

We often hear encouragement to โ€œfail early, fail often. Letโ€™s instead fail early and fail small, followed by learning and success. Instead of knowing weโ€™re right, letโ€™s test ideas and say, โ€œI could be wrong.โ€ 

Scientific improvement means weโ€™re open to having our hypothesis disproved through data and observation instead of stubbornly trying to convince everybody we are right. When we make a mistake, weโ€™re better off when leaders cultivate a culture where admitting it, reflecting, adjusting, and moving forward โ€” in a better way โ€” is safe for all.

Organizations featured in the book, including Toyota, the technology company KaiNexus, and two award-winning distilleries, also have a culture of making small mistakes in the spirit of preventing catastrophes. Better yet, they create and nurture  conditions where itโ€™s psychologically safe to speak up about near misses (or almost mistakes), meaning we can learn and prevent a harmful mistake before it occurs. 

Punishing mistakes doesn't lead to fewer mistakes โ€” instead, people get better at hiding them or deflecting the blame to somebody else. Telling people to be careful also doesnโ€™t prevent mistakes โ€” because, remember, weโ€™re all human, and we all make mistakes. Leaders also canโ€™t mandate that people should feel safe (or be brave) to speak up about mistakes โ€” the safety they feel (or donโ€™t) is driven by the organizationโ€™s culture. 

In The Mistakes That Make Us, youโ€™ll read stories and insights from some of the 200 guests who appeared on Grabanโ€™s podcast, โ€œMy Favorite Mistake,โ€ along with stories from his own work and career, including mistakes and lessons learned.

The book includes perspectives from CEOs and leaders from companies, both large and small, who are learning from mistakes and helping their employees do the same. Youโ€™ll read the stories and reflections from a wide range of people from industries and professions, including manufacturing, healthcare, software, professional services, entertainment, sports, and whiskey distilling. Youโ€™ll learn from a โ€œsharkโ€ (Kevin Harrington from the TV hit โ€œShark Tankโ€) and a then-sitting U.S. Representative, Will Hurd. 

Whether you are a startup founder or an aspiring leader in a larger company, this book will show you the mindsets and methods required to cultivate a culture of learning from mistakes โ€” with the purpose of creating a stronger organization that produces results, including lower turnover, more improvement and innovation, and better bottom-line performance. 

The chapter titles serve as actionable advice for readers:

  1. Think positively about mistakes
  2. Admit and cherish mistakes
  3. Be kind to yourself
  4. Proactively prevent mistakes, but learn from those that happen
  5. Make it safer to speak up about mistakes
  6. React constructively: focus on learning, not punishment
  7. Make small mistakes to prevent large mistakes
  8. Cultivate a culture of learning from mistakes

Grabanโ€™s book shares compelling stories about how a culture of learning from mistakes, built upon psychological safety, means we can learn more and reach greater heights. Getting things wrong can make it right โ€” if we lead with kindness and humility. This book will inspire you and show you how.