Everyone makes mistakes. It’s what we tell ourselves when things go wrong, and it is in fact true. The average person probably makes hundreds of mistakes per day, from making the wrong turn, to picking the slow-moving aisle, or forgetting to close the window. To err is human, but of course, there are blunders and there are grave errors. For example, the wrong choice of dishwashing liquid is much less problematic than forgetting to lower the wheels when landing a plane.
And therein lies the true crux of our times, how to value mistakes and avoid making them. The difficulty is that some mistakes take years to actually manifest themselves. And by then, so many other things may have happened that it is difficult to articulate the impact of one mistake versus the other. For instance, take the engineers at Siemens when they met the founders of Cisco many years ago and were considering buying the technology. They turned down this opportunity, because (and please brace yourself for this one) “if the technology were really that good, we (Siemens) would have invented it”. It could be argued that this mistake cost their shareholders $200 billion (given the current market value of CSCO).
So, how do we protect ourselves from making big mistakes? The trick is to establish boundaries around the risks we take. For example, say we really like cheese, but we find out that eating more is going to kill us. How could we increase our odds of survival? We could avoid having cheese in the house entirely (even for other family members), we could disassociate ourselves from people who eat cheese, or we could even start a government petition to rid the country of cheese all together, for there are lives at risk.
There are clearly degrees of extremes we can go to, in order to minimise any risk. The problem is also, that by focusing on one, we may expose ourselves to others. Who knows what happens from prolonged exposure to Vegans anyway? But the point is this, we actually know when some risks are higher than others and quite naturally we put safeguards around the very actions that could have a greater impact on our wellbeing. Think about crossing the street. If we didn’t make sure to look before crossing, we would have millions of traffic deaths every day. But clearly, we are smart enough to avoid such a stupid mistake, because you know, we could die otherwise. And there you go, just put every decision you make in context to what you do when crossing a street, and you can build yourself the best risk system in the world.