Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mistakes Happne


Today is another post where I'm not sure I have advice so much as questions, but it's been on my mind a lot lately so I want to share. You see, I've been thinking a lot about change and innovation. Mostly my thoughts have centered on how it's a messy messy process. But also, I've been considering how innovation intersects with impostor syndrome. This idea is at the heart of a keynote I'll be giving later this month, a keynote I'm still writing. So here I am writing a blog post about it since I needed something for today and since I think best when typing.

Idea #1: Mistakes Happen
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. This isn't just lip service here, either. I have made plenty of mistakes myself. There are the small ones like the blog I tried to start at my last institution that was all book reviews by people associated with that school and geared towards people associated with that school. I think I got about 4 posts before the blog died. Then there are big ones, like my ill-fated step outside of librarianship. I try my darnedest to learn from all my mistakes, but the best thing I learned is that there is no avoiding them.

Idea #2: Innovation Means Mistakes
I don't mean innovation as a buzzword. I don't mean innovation for innovation's sake. What I'm talking about here is the constant but purposeful drive to improve and grow and reach. The Wright Brothers were famous mistake makers. As was Edison. How about Einstein's math skills? Or Temple Grandin? Famous innovators, all. Mistake makers, all.

Idea #3: Being New Means Mistakes
Something I try to convince new staff members of is that we expect them to make mistakes. It's not that we don't think they are smart enough or capable or hardworking, it's just that there's a learning curve. Always. Even if you're just starting at a new library after decades as a librarian, you still have to learn the culture. But I know I've had problems with feeling like I'm faking it, even though I have a mentee of my own.

Idea #4: We Have to Make Mistakes Less Scary
This is the part where I'm kind of stumped. I know that it helps me to keep a Joi Ito quote, "Resilience over strength," in mind. But I've had years of experience to teach me how to bounce back from mistakes. I was a lot less secure about it when I was new to the field. I believe those of us who have been in our fields longer need to be more forthcoming about our mistakes. I've also got some thoughts about rewarding smart mistakes, but those aren't as fully-formed.

Does this make sense? Does it at least make more sense than Madam Cur-catie up there? What do you all think? I'd really love to hear from people, either here or on Twitter or even via email, on the subject of supporting people as they learn and make mistakes.

And, for the record, the typo in the title is on purpose. Inspired by one of my favorite hashtags


  1. This post was perfect for my current situation! The imposter syndrome is hitting me hard as I graduate and apply for jobs. I've worked in a library for years but I still don't feel ready for the bigger positions. Making mistakes does terrify me- but I know there's nothing to do but soldier on! Thanks again.

  2. I highly recommend the 2014 book "Mistakes I Made at Work," edited by Jessica Bacal, to anyone making mistakes, or managing people who are making mistakes (i.e. everyone). The contributors are all women, but there's wisdom to spare for employees of all genders...