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Wharton Digital Press  |  November 10, 2011

Brilliant Mistakes Book and Contest Challenge Executives and Entrepreneurs to Learn from Blunders

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Penicillin, the light bulb, and Harry Potter all have one element in common: They each resulted from mistakes. In Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure (Wharton Digital Press), Paul Schoemaker calls human errors “portals of discovery” that can help us “err our way to success.”

Relying on his extensive research into behavioral decision theory, Schoemaker takes readers through the steps needed to turn mistakes into pathways to success and even goes so far as to suggest intentionally creating flubs to unravel and reconsider everyday processes and mindsets.

“Most mistakes contain a silver lining, but few organizations manage to turn that silver lining into gold,” says Paul Schoemaker, PhD, research director of the Mack Center for Technological Innovation at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and founder of Decision Strategies International, Inc. “Mistakes should be viewed as corporate assets that need to be mined for all they are worth; instead of hiding mistakes and punishing people, let’s extract the hidden lesson,” he adds.

In conjunction with the book’s release, Wharton Digital Press is launching a Brilliant Mistakes Contest that challenges managers, entrepreneurs and professionals to recognize a “brilliant mistake” that jumpstarted success. Possible prizes include roundtrip tickets on Southwest Airlines, a week of Wharton Executive Education coursework and lunch with the author.

Through stories and analysis woven through the book, Brilliant Mistakes shows there is a difference between silly errors and brilliant mistakes and that designing for, and learning from, a mistake can make it brilliant. Brilliant Mistakes emphasizes the following key messages:

  1. It is important to embrace the learning potential of mistakes—first, by overcoming the shame and fear that lead us to overlook the covert messages they carry about how we think.
  2. To learn from a mistake, it’s critical to separate the decision process—the part that you own—from the outcomes, which are usually influenced by external factors.
  3. There is a difference between silly errors and brilliant mistakes, and it all hinges on the relative costs and benefits of what is at stake. Designing for, and learning from, a mistake can make it brilliant.
  4. In some cases, it’s advisable to allow room for mistakes to be made. Just as random mutations have advanced evolution, clever, well-designed mistakes can further human progress by opening new vistas.

Brilliant Mistakes, which is richly illustrated with real-world business examples, is a must read for anyone who has to deal with a rapidly changing world,” said Stephen J. Kobrin, Publisher and Executive Director, Wharton Digital Press. “The Brilliant Mistakes Contest is a great opportunity to hear from people in a wide range of circumstances about how have they have used their mistakes to enhance innovation and change.”

Entries to the contest will be evaluated based on the degree of innovation resulting from the mistake and significance of the resulting changes. Competitors who wish to be considered for an award should include in their submission a brief description (300 words or less) of their most brilliant mistake, highlighting the context in which it occurred, key learnings and what changes resulted from this problem.

The Brilliant Mistakes Contest judges represent Wharton faculty as well as thought leaders in the field of business innovation. The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2012, and winners will be announced on February 1, 2012.

All entries must be submitted at https://wsp.wharton.upenn.edu/brilliant-mistakes-contest/ to be considered.

UPDATE: Winners announced on February 15, 2012. Learn more.