Thoughts on: Better by Mistake by Alina Tugend

August 21, 2011

“Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong” by Alina Tugend is a non-fiction book which tries to explain how dealing with mistakes can benefit you and your work. While this book might be categorized as self-help, I found it to be more than that and  thought provoking as well.

  • 304 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1594487855

My rating for Better by Mistake – 4

While “Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong” by Alina Tugend (Website | Twitter | Facebook) might be categorized as a self help book, I found it to be more of a business book or social commentary than the self help kind.

Ms. Tugend focuses on the hypocritical nature of our society when it comes to the subject at hand and how one is able to overcome the ingrained philosophy which we were taught. I found it very refreshing to take an honest look into our society where we are told to learn from our mistakes, yet get penalized and punished when we make them.

It was inspirational to read, an honest look about the cover-your-ass (CYA) culture we have become. How people spend more energy deflecting mistakes, cover them or avoid them instead of owning up, apologizing and learning something out of their faux pas. You can open up any paper on almost any given day and see how the political class in this country is bungling its way through avoidance and deflection, usually making a mockery out of themselves, the system and the people they are suppose to represent.

The author gives an overview of how successful individuals, or more likely industries, handle mistakes.  From hospitals, airlines, schools and other industries handling mistakes does not necessarily invokes immediate punishment and after all, not all mistakes are equal.

I read this book after taking a week long CMMI course which is meant to teach one how to find mistakes at the initial phases of a project and learn from them. While I certainly recognize the importance of establishing a standard operating procedure (SOP), I also recognize the love affair many managers have with checklists. This love affair is so prevalent that in many cases the checklist becomes the project regardless of the product it supposes to produce.

The other issue I had in the back of my mind read is that while industries can make all the lists they want but if they ignore data than all their checklists are useless. For example, airlines consider being “on time” if the airplane leaves the gate on time even if it’s just a few feet – but it doesn’t matter if the passengers wait on the tarmac for three hours; or hospitals don’t check incoming patients for MRSA virus because they simply don’t want to know if you got it at their hospital.
MRSA virus is a hospital virus and could be lethal!

I did enjoy reading this book, it is thought provoking and the studies the author quotes are interesting and present a point which goes well with the book’s theme. Better yet, I felt as if I learned something which could be practical not only for me, but for my family as well.

So tell me, do you learn from your mistakes or are you busy covering them up?

Journalist Alina Tugend examines what it means to make mistakes, how we pay for it and the hypocritical nature of our society when it comes to learning from them.

Zohar – Man of la Book
Disclaimer – I got this book for free


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  • PaulDail August 21, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Sounds fascinating. I taught troubled teens for awhile, and one of the biggest aspects of our program was getting the kids to stop justifying and just take responsibility. Don’t try and blame someone else, just admit you did something wrong. I always told these kids that if they could truly learn that skill, they would be ahead of 75% (or more) of the ADULT population.

    And my gripe goes to the IRS who will penalize you for being late, but a few years ago, they were almost three months late getting me a refund for no explainable reason. But did I get any sort of compounded interest? Course not. Buggers.

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • zohar August 22, 2011 at 12:53 am

      Thanks for the comment Paul. There is a whole section in the book about teachers and how students who have teachers which focus on mistakes benefit more if done correctly.

  • Shelleyrae August 30, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Sounds fascinating. As a parent and a teacher I feel very strongly about the importance of taking responsibility for your actions, a concept that society is eroding to our detriment.

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out

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