Egon Zehnder
Select region
Close filter
Featured Insight

Learning to make mistakes

Learning to Make Mistakes

Digital transformation calls for a whole new attitude to making mistakes. This can involve a radical culture change: In most German companies, for example, the principle of avoiding mistakes is deeply entrenched. But in the digital world this mindset inhibits progress, blocking the transformation process.

In a German-style culture, anyone who doesn’t want to jeopardize their career will tend to avoid excessive risks. Because if something goes wrong they may incur sanctions or at the very least see their career progression delayed. Yet this kind of cautious, fearful approach leads to passivity, inhibiting innovative ideas and opportunities are missed as a result.

The United States offers a valuable counter-example. Here, mistakes are seen as a totally natural and inevitable component of the desired entrepreneurial thinking and action and of the progress they are expected to drive. The basic attitude is that anyone who wants to be innovative and break new ground will, from time to time, inevitably take a wrong turning and fail. This isn’t a defect – it’s an enriching experience. The question is not “Why did you fail?” but “What did you learn from that?”

The management team and the CEO in particular need to actively promote this new risk-tolerant culture, demonstrating it with concrete examples. If innovative projects fail, or if mistakes are made during their implementation, then the results and those responsible for them should not be penalized. Quite the opposite: Executives must make it eminently clear that they stand by these projects and that everyone will benefit from these experiences.

In view of the agility that companies must develop in an economic environment where volatility is the norm, creating a culture in which mistakes are accepted as normal and inevitable is a key prerequisite for successful digital transformation.


< Part 4



Topics Related to this Article

Related content


Escaping "Pilot Purgatory"


Many chemical enterprises have implemented pilot programs as a way of taking the first steps toward digital transformation. But the conversations we have with… Read more

Delivering the Connected Car

Delivering the Connected Car

Automotive OEMs must work in fundamentally new and different ways to deliver the Connected Car that consumers so clearly desire. The shift begins with… Read more

CMOs: Success Factors for Change-Drivers

CMOs: Success Factors for Change-Drivers

Marketing Officers

Chief Marketing Officers are increasingly hired to restructure, reshape, and re-skill their organizations. The study “Renovate to Innovate: Building Performance-Driven Marketing Organizations” by the… Read more

Back to top