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Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure Paperback – November 8, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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 of 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, Business Week

“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 C.E.O. Olympus Corporation of the Americas

Brilliant Mistakes offers a creative and practical road map for designing for and learning from mistakes.”
—Yoram (Jerry) Wind, Lauder Professor, Director of SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management, Academic Director of The Wharton Fellows Program, The Wharton School; Coauthor of The Power of Impossible Thinking

“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 at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, author of Educating Intuition, Judgement and Choice, and Dance with Chance

“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

About the Author

Paul J. H. Schoemaker, PhD, is founder and executive chairman of Decision Strategies International, Inc., and research director of the Mack Center for Technological Innovation at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has advised more than 100 organizations around the world and serves as board chairman of three companies (one based in Europe). He is coauthor with J. Edward Russo of Decision Traps and Winning Decisions, which jointly sold more than 100,000 copies. He is also author of Profiting from Uncertainty, Peripheral Vision with George Day, and Chips, Clones and Living Beyond 100 with Joyce Schoemaker.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Wharton Digital Press (November 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1613630123
  • ISBN-13: 978-1613630129
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,143,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In some ways this is a brilliant book. It is short and the author's argument is extremely well organized and presented very effectively It was a real pleasure to read and it is very much a thinking person's book.

It should really be titled "Deliberate Mistakes" because that is what the author is really describing. At first I couldn't figure why he was talking about "mistakes" when it really sounded like he was describing experimentation, taking chances and risks. But he spends some time explaining that that is not really what he is recommending. It is more on the order of doing things you expect to fail and not pay off.

I find it hard to criticize much about it except for a couple of minor mistakes. One was Schoemaker describing Einstein as a "lowly patent clerk" who was somewhat ignorant about physics. Anyone who knows Einstein's biography knows this portrayal of him is a myth. At another point he makes some statement about O.J. Simpson's glove. However these are just a few sentences out of this otherwise very fine book.

I have no problem highly recommending this book. It has an extensive preview with Amazon's "Look Inside" feature and I suggest you make use of that opportunity and then add the book to your personal Library.
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The title of this review was excerpted from a longer passage worthy of inclusion now. Paul Schoemaker observes, "The great virtue of mistakes, whether they occur accidentally or by design, is their ability to enlarge our range of experience, shrink our ego, and thereby increase the chance of discovery. If you accept that humans are myopic and largely unaware of their own bounded rationality, then some degree of mistake-making is appropriate and welcome. This is especially hard in organizations but leaders can start by instituting awards like the Golden Egg." That is, view mistakes as (potentially) valuable assets, not as "failures."

Schoemaker notes that one CEO obtained some empty L'eggs pantyhose plastic eggs, sprayed them with gold paint, and used them when awarding the "best mistake of the month." That is, the mistake from which the most valuable information was obtained. As Thomas Edison never missed an opportunity to point out, understanding what doesn't work is critically important to determining what does.

Several passages caught my eye. For example, "Four Factors Impacting a Decision's Outcome," each of which has the potentiality to "blind us about the quality of a decision, to lead us away from the path of truly understanding another person's judgment toward quick but potentially false and unfair conclusions." (Pages 14-22) Another, "Conditions That Favor Deliberate Mistakes," offers invaluable advice when mistakes should be encouraged because long-term learning is more important than short-term results. "Consider the strategy of deliberate mistakes as one of many tools that managers can employ when operating on the right side of the knowledge spectrum." (Pages 88-92).
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Format: Kindle Edition
Enda Kenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it last week : 'We don't adequately prepare our young people for failure'


You don’t want to stay a fish

Failure is an issue. The policy report on entrepreneurship 2014 by the Irish government shows we have an issue with failure and risk. Talking to our clients in the innovation space, the same issue arises. In innovation and particularly iterative innovation, failure is a given and in theory it should be accepted by the organisation. In reality it is not. Failure is not an option. But it should. In fact failure is pre-requisite for survival. Our very existence as humans relies on the error mechanism of random mutation, if not we would still be fish, lizards or monkeys.

Eco system of mistakes

Unfortunately our schools and organisations are designed for efficiency and order. These are fine principles but rarely encourage mistakes, either brilliant or foolish. It needs to get messy. Or to quote from Managing serendipity, you need to put the baby in the boxing ring. Diverse thinking and tolerance for mistakes are both critical to innovation since they allow for variation beyond what is normally seen. At times, you need to design ecosystems of mistakes.

Mistakes are relative

But what is a mistake? Perception is everything. Starting with the definition of a mistake Merriam-Webster defines a mistake as “a wrong action or statement proceeding from faulty judgment, inadequate knowledge, or inattention.” This crisp definition relies on a simple outcomes-based criterion of truth .
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Format: Paperback
We've all heard the saying "if at first you don't succeed try, try again" but what the saying fails to capture is how failure, mistakes and missteps line the path to true innovation. In Brilliant Mistakes, Paul J. H. Schoemaker asserts that most people don't make too many mistakes, instead they make too few, letting fear of failure block the path to inspiration. For maximum benefit, he says, we may need to commit far more errors than we are comfortable with. Companies reward results but Schoemaker argues that businesses and individuals might be better served by focusing on good planning and decision-making rather than just the final outcome.

Mistakes can speed learning and lead to greater success later on. In some cases, what was initially perceived as a failure or wrong decision later turns out to be a smart move. Often we simply don't have all the data and we are quick to rush to judgement. Making brilliant mistakes isn't just about a flailing sort of failure, it's about learning from experience and making smarter choices each time. An unexamined mistake is a wasted effort. Each failure therefore serves as a rung on a ladder leading toward eventual brilliant success. Mistake making works best when the goal is long-term learning not short-term gain. For companies it may involve switching from a performance-based culture to a learning-based one. The idea is to create a culture of curiosity, a lab of sorts, where the emphasis is on the method rather then the result. One of the author's key examples of brilliant mistake making took place in an actual lab. When Alexander Fleming allowed contaminated Petri dishes to pile up, a fungus grew and that eventually led to the discovery of penicillin.
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