It’s OK to make honest mistakes!

Hindustan Times reported that, in his first meeting with nearly 80 secretary-rank officers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanded quick and bold decisions from the top bureaucrats, telling them not to worry about prosecuting agencies. He promised to back them all the way if they make honest mistakes. This reminded me of one of my own experiences.

A few years back, a customer reported a problem in a machine that had been supplied by us just over a year earlier. When our Service Engineer checked the machine, he found that a part had got badly worn out and had to be replaced. He informed the customer, who asked us to supply the part immediately. Since the machine’s warranty had expired, he would have to pay Rs. 6,000 for the part.

The next morning, another Service Engineer met me and informed me that he had worked on the same machine the previous week. The damaged part had been perfectly OK then. Since it had got badly worn out in a very short time, he felt that he might have made some mistake while refixing the part that day. He had obtained the correct procedure from the manufacturer. Now, he was sure that he had indeed made a mistake. He felt that we must not charge the customer for the replacement part and offered to pay for it himself.

I immediately replied that, while he had definitely made a mistake, I appreciated his honesty, particularly because nobody would have known if he hadn’t pointed out his own mistake. I also turned down his offer to pay for the part because, since his employer gets full credit for his good work, his employer will also take full responsibility for his mistakes.

We informed the customer exactly what had happened, assured him that the part was being replaced free of cost, and apologised for the inconvenience caused to him.

This Service Engineer was in the last month of probation when this incident took place. Prior to this incident, we were not sure whether we would confirm his appointment. However, because of this incident, his appointment was confirmed!

Obviously, we rewarded the Service Engineer for his honesty. Why didn’t we penalize him in any way for having made a mistake? Please read the quotes below.

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. – George Bernard Shaw

Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time. – George Bernard Shaw

If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes. – John Wooden

Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations. – Steve Jobs

An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field. – Niels Bohr

No man ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes. – William E. Gladstone

I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success. – Jack Welch

I was taking myself very seriously when I was going through life changes. And I realized that I needed to laugh at myself, particularly at my mistakes. – Spencer Johnson

Take risks. Ask big questions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not reaching far enough. – David Packard

I love mistakes because it’s the only way you learn. – Jane Fonda

I wouldn’t change anything because the mistakes and the hurt are as important as all the great fights. They made me who I am today. – Sugar Ray Leonard

You make your mistakes to learn how to get to the good stuff. – Quincy Jones

To swear off making mistakes is very easy. All you have to do is swear off having ideas. – Leo Burnett