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Brilliant Mistakes

Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure

Paul J. H. Schoemaker

Named #1 Best Business Book of 2011, by Patriot-News–PennLive.com

If you have ever flown in an airplane, used electricity from a nuclear power plant, or taken an antibiotic, you have benefited from a brilliant mistake.

Each of these life-changing innovations was the result of many missteps and an occasional brilliant insight that turned a mistake into a surprising portal of discovery. In Brilliant Mistakes, Paul Schoemaker, founder and chairman of Decision Strategies International, shares critical insights on the surprising benefits of making well-chosen mistakes.

Brilliant Mistakes explores why minimizing mistakes may be the greatest mistake of all, situations when mistakes are most beneficial and when they should be avoided, the counter-intuitive idea that we should deliberately permit errors at times, and how to make the most of brilliant mistakes to improve business results.

Brilliant Mistakes is based on solid academic research and insights from Schoemaker’s work with more than 100 organizations, as well as his provocative Harvard Business Review article with Robert Gunther, “The Wisdom of Deliberate Mistakes.” Schoemaker provides a practical roadmap for using mistakes to accelerate learning for your organization and yourself.

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About the Author

Paul J. H. Schoemaker

Paul J.H. Schoemaker is a pioneer in the field of decision sciences, among the first to combine the practical ideas of decision theory, behavioral economics, scenario planning, and risk management into a set of strategic...

Praise for Brilliant Mistakes

“A roadmap for using business failures to generate path-breaking innovations…. Schoemaker presents broad and deep perspectives on why mistakes remain underutilized portals of discovery in most organizations. Although it may disrupt your mental models, this engaging, wide-ranging, and innovative book is a must-read.”

—Clayton Christensen, Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration, Harvard University, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Prescription, and The Innovator’s Solution

“All of us, from educators to CEOs, will profit from taking to heart Schoemaker’s messages—this book is both brilliant and fun to read.”

—John Seely Brown, Co-Chair, Deloitte Center for the Edge, Visiting Scholar & Advisor to the Provost, University of Southern California; Coauthor, The Power of Pull and A New Culture of Learning

“In Brilliant Mistakes, Schoemaker brilliantly pulls off a tricky three-way balance: a solid grounding in behavioral and managerial research, engaging and entertaining examples from many endeavors (business, sports, physics, medicine, music, art, literature), and clear and concrete recommendations for how to make the right kind of mistakes and how to extract the gold that’s in them.”

—Joshua Klayman, Founding Partner, Humanly Possible, Inc.; Professor Emeritus of Behavioral Science, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

“Elegantly combining stories, personal insights, and practical models, Schoemaker offers both notable inspiration and fine guidance to those in pursuit of true innovation. Not reading this book will be a mistake—and not a brilliant one!”

—Carsten Bjerg, CEO, Grundfos, Denmark

Brilliant Mistakes tackles the hardest stage of the innovation process, namely challenging the current business model and seeing opportunities before others do (box 3 in my terminology).”

—Vijay Govindarajan, Professor at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Coauthor, Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators and The Other Side of Innovation

“This is a must-read for anyone seeking both perfection and innovation; short-term performance and long-term learning; the pride of excellence and the humility to make deliberate mistakes; and the tolerance for many dumb mistakes to produce a few brilliant ones.”

— Steve Bonner, President and CEO, Cancer Treatment Centers of America

“Essential.…With his customary wit and analytic sharpness, Paul Schoemaker explains how to identify and encourage the sort of high-risk, high-return ‘mistakes’ that can open up new markets, create strategic opportunities, and invigorate organizations.”

—Michael Mandel, Chief Economic Strategist, Progressive Policy Institute, and Former Chief Economist, Businessweek

“Mining mistakes often yields great value immediately, but more importantly, it will change your company’s culture to embrace innovation and risk taking over the long run.”

—F. Mark Gumz, Retired President and CEO, Olympus Corporation of the Americas

Brilliant Mistakes offers a creative and practical road map for designing and learning from mistakes.”

—Yoram (Jerry) Wind, Professor and Director, Wharton SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management

“In intriguing style—and with examples from many fields—Paul Schoemaker shows not only how to profit from mistakes but also what kinds of mistakes can lead to better learning and innovation.…A great read. Bravo!”

—Robin M. Hogarth, ICREA Research Professor, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, and author, Educating Intuition

“Schoemaker lays the foundation for corporations to fundamentally alter their DNA by teaching us how to reframe our thinking about mistakes by making them a part of our accepted ‘rules of engagement’.…A DIY handbook for every leader seeking to make a difference.”

—Govi Rao, CEO, Noveda

“An utterly brilliant book… Kudos to Schoemaker for highlighting such an important aspect of creating value from unexpected outcomes! It is a must-read for every researcher and innovation leader in every organization.”

—Larry Huston, CEO, 4iNNO, and Former Innovation Officer, Procter & Gamble

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