“I haven’t failed,” Thomas Edison once said, describing the trial and error that preceded his invention of the lightbulb. “I’ve just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.”
Edison’s way of thinking is very much in line with the “growth mindset” – a sincere belief that one’s abilities are not set in stone; that talent can be nurtured; that intelligence can be fostered; and that creativity and leadership can be developed. These are values we embrace at ARCTIC, to help facilitate innovation and create an atmosphere in which people can achieve their fullest potential.
When ARCTIC’s CEO Magnus Huber visited our head office in Braunschweig earlier this year, we took a moment to chat with him about risk-taking and error culture in Germany and at ARCTIC.
ARCTIC: Hi Magnus. Your vision for ARCTIC is that we, as a company, apply Growth Mindset principles to our work. This, however, can feel a bit counter to the traditional work culture in Germany. How would you assess German error culture?
Risk tolerance in Germany altogether is rather low. People are afraid to make mistakes at work or of running into a dead end, since the image of perfection is deep-rooted and anchored in German working culture. The expectation to be always perfect and 100% correct, even at the first attempt, is impossible to meet and it leads inevitably to disappointments and a feeling of failure.
This experience of “I’m bad if something goes wrong” discourages us from trying new things and being innovative. We are afraid to seek new paths, since the old ones are more secure. If you stay in your comfort zone and continue doing what you have always done, you are less likely to do anything wrong – but you definitely do not improve or invent anything new or extraordinary.
ARCTIC: This seems to be at odds with a transformative world. How can we, in your opinion, fight against these counterproductive traditions, making the work environment better for us all while boosting innovation at the same time?
Well, the first step is to see failure as a positive and not as a defining factor to our skillset. We need to develop the courage to push ourselves to the limit. Because if you don’t step across the border, you’ll never get to know what is on the other side. We need to understand that always going the same way guarantees only one thing for sure – no progress.
Big improvements often come with big challenges. Think about the vacuum cleaner without a filter bag – the inventor needed nearly 5,200 attempts to make it work. He didn’t give up – despite all the discouraging comments – and that makes the difference!
ARCTIC: That is a real success story. But in my experience, success is never guaranteed, even after numerous mistaken attempts. How should we react when mistakes do not lead to success, even after trying 5,200 times?
Certainly testing the same flawed machine 5,200 times won’t make it work. As growth mindset practitioners we don’t look at whether we fully succeeded or not. We look at the progress. It often comes in baby steps. Large challenges are broken down into numerous small ones and solved one by one. Regarding this example, it was clear from the very beginning that it would not be an easy endeavour and that the path likely would be a long one. Nevertheless, it made sense to iterate this long since the potential benefit of the idea is huge.
We have to get used to the idea that development is not a linear process but rather a street with lots of dead ends. Every time we run into a dead-end, we may not have gained a successful product, but additional knowledge instead. We should treasure the failed attempts and talk about them, like in so-called “Fuckup Nights”, which have slowly landed also in Germany.
ARCTIC: Innovation requires not only inspiration, but also perspiration and perseverance. What is your vision for the Growth Mindset at ARCTIC? How should it affect our everyday work culture and processes?
With a growth mindset, people believe that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. This is the atmosphere we want to cultivate at ARCTIC, throughout the company: in production and logistics, in sales as well as marketing. ARCTIC employees are encouraged to constantly learn, innovate, improve our processes and increase job satisfaction.