If Something is Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Wrong

What? WaLet's do something wrong handwritten designit a minute! Is that a typo? Am I encouraging you to do good things badly?

No, it’s not a typo. And I am definitely not calling for making mistakes on purpose.

Let me explain. I’ve just returned from the annual Winter Conference of the National Speakers Association, of which I am a proud member.

I spent the last three days with about 300 other professional speakers in Austin, Texas. The entire conference was devoted to learning, growth, innovation, reinvention, and change (and we managed to Keep Austin Weird – that wasn’t hard for us to accomplish). Special kudos to conference c0-chairs Gary Rifkin, CSP, Cavett Award, and Christie Ward, CSP. It was an incredible program.

The opening session on Friday afternoon was led by change provocateur extraordinaire Randy Pennington, who reminded us that change is not only difficult, but that it creates lots of discomfort. He encouraged us to focus on compelling visions (ice cream, not brussel sprouts, for dessert – the image he conjured up). Truly desirable visions and goals make it easier to get “over the hump” of discomfort.

But my true “Aha!” moment of the entire conference came when one of Randy’s three on-stage guests, Tracy Brown, suggested that “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing wrong.” What she meant (or at least what I heard) was that learning and growth inevitably requires new skills and new behaviors, and thus increases the likelihood  you will make mistakes. Very few of us do something new perfectly the first time we attempt it.

But the only way to learn and grow is to try new things – to become a beginner all over again. For most of us that’s not easy; as adults we have gotten good at doing certain things – usually the things that define who we are, what we are known for, and what we do for a living. We become naturally reluctant to stretch ourselves because we know we’re likely to stumble, to look bad, and perhaps even to be seen as incompetent.

I am reminded of a story I heard many years ago, told by my neighbor Ron, on himself. Ron was the father of a five-year old boy; as Dads do, he was teaching his son Billy how to ride a bicycle. Ron had taken off the training wheels, and he would run alongside Billy on the sidewalk as the boy struggled to keep the front wheel in line and stay balanced on his bike.

One day Ron arrived home from work to find Billy standing next to the fallen bike with tears in his eyes and blood streaming down his leg from a bad scrape. Clearly he had taken the bike out on his own and had suffered a bad fall.

Ron jumped out of his car, ran over to Billy, and yelled, “Don’t do that again! Put that bike back in the garage and leave it there until you learn how to ride it!”

Ron recognized almost instantly how stupid that must have sounded, even to Billy. How could Billy learn to ride that bike while it was in the garage?

Learning to do almost anything new means risking failure, or at least some temporary decline in performance. It’s inevitable. In fact, most resistance to change stems from fear of failure, or fear of loss of control over performance. If you think of it that way, resistance to change is not only understandable, it’s actually rational – especially if there are negative consequences for poor performance.ChangeCurve2

When you are asking your team or your staff to do something new, be sure you offer them some kind of “protection” in the event their performance and/or productivity declines for a short time. And if you want to learn something new or do something differently, give yourself permission to do it wrong. That’s an inevitable bump in the road, but it’s the only way to learn and grow.

I consider myself a recovering perfectionist; I have a tendency to think new ideas to death (analysis paralysis) before attempting them. So I am deeply grateful for Tracy Brown’s advice. I know it will make it easier for me to step outside my comfort zone – and to enjoy being a beginner all over again.

The road to new experiences and new ideas is almost always paved with speed bumps and land mines. But the only way to get where you want to go is by being willing to do something “Wrong” on the way to doing doing it Right.

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Contact me today for a free 30-minute strategic conversation about how you can make all your meetings and other corporate conversations both productive and popular – and how to risk doing things Wrong. Please download this brief overview of my new service offering for making meetings matter to explore what’s possible.


2 replies
  1. Nancy Harkrider
    Nancy Harkrider says:

    Excellent article!
    The concept of doing it wrong seems, at first, counterintuitive. How can organizations know they are doing it right if their criterion for success is based on outmoded mind sets in the proverbial dog chasing its own tail scenario?

    Innovation is messy but necessary. This has always been an important personal value, but your article made me realize it’s not enough for me to learn from what I am doing wrong. We need to find ways to inspire our clients to embrace this concept. The world we inhabit demands no less of us.

    Perhaps a topic for one of our future global conversations?

  2. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Loved this article and advice! For those of us venturing into new waters, this is comforting advice. Well, sort of–no one likes to feel awkward or be perceived poorly, but knowing that it’s just how it goes is helpful indeed.

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