Mistakes Are Just the Icing on the Cake
Posted by Ken Klaus on June 16, 2008
I have friend who is a total foodie. He has no problem spending Sunday mornings sprawled on the couch watching a full week of recordings from the Food Network. One of my his favorite shows is Ace of Cakes, which follows the adventures of master pastry chef Duff Goldman and his posse of extreme cake makers at Charm City Cakes. My friend thinks the employees at this company have achieved career nirvana: the perfect blend of fun, imagination, inspiration, and sugar. For the uninitiated, each week Duff and his crack team of decorators create edible works of art. From corvettes and roller skates to bulldogs and baseball stadiums, no challenge is too big. Their motto: You dream it, we’ll bake it, you eat it! Unfortunately, even with good planning and near perfect execution accidents happen. Some mistakes are made by the staff, like spilling food dye on a finished cake; while other problems are completely out of their control, like traffic jams, potholes and the weather. Fortunately Duff, ever the master of cool, is rarely phased by these mishaps. In fact he expects things will go wrong from time to time and tells his staff not to dwell on the problem, but to concentrate on how to make things right. Not surprisingly, some of the most creative moments on the show happen when things do not go as planned.
Over the years I’ve made some pretty spectacular blunders myself – from sending out emails in a moment of anger, to deleting a semester’s worth of grades a week before graduation when I worked as the Assistant Registrar at a small graduate school outside of Boston. A mistake our IT department spent the better part of their weekend fixing. I’ve also had to deal with problems that were out of my control, things like shifting project priorities, organizational upheaval, technological meltdowns, and psychotic co-workers – but that’s a topic for another post.
When things go wrong often our first impulse is to fix the blame before we fix the problem; when our primary focus should always be to make things right. Once the problem is resolved we should also take time and reflect on the how and why of our mistake. Though this process can sometimes be a painful exercise, I believe our most profound learning experiences happen not when we succeed, but when we fail – and very few individuals, if any, have ever succeeded without making mistakes along the way. Perseverance, not perfection, leads to success. So if success is the cake we enjoy when things go right, then let the icing on the cake be the lessons we learn when we fail.