You can never make the same mistake twice because the second time you make it, it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice. — Steven Denn

In my teenage years, my mother would often warn me not to do something that I was about to do, she would argue that she tried the same thing and had a bad experience. Like most teens, I would listen, nod and go on with whatever I wanted. So why would I make the same mistake my mother warned me about? I guess I needed to live the experience on my own. When we are forming our personality the learning process consists of our experiences, and that means doing by ourselves, even when we know about. But is it that bad repeating an action on a different scenario? Can’t the outcome be different?

I get overwhelmed by articles and literature on how to avoid mistakes. Business gurus tell their stories and give the top 3–5 mistakes to avoid. So I wanted to understand this, and here are my reflections on how professionals and companies can deal with the idea of mistakes that are known.


Have you ever thought about having a device that helps to avoid mistakes? Poka-Yoke is a Japanese term for error-proofing. It is a Lean technique that helps to prevent mistakes in an assembly line by designing a process, equipment or tool. The Poka-Yoke goal is not to allow people to use a machine or process incorrectly. Some companies that brought Lean to the office took Poka-Yoke too literally on every process and task. Without a proper context, the concept might create a rigid mindset that prevents people to think differently. In his article, Michael Schrage indicates that looking for ways to minimize mistakes pushes people to rethink creatively the process and it invites innovation.

The openness to make a mistake

Fail fast, learn faster. The mindset involved with Design Thinking, Agile and Lean Startup promote that companies create a space for people to make mistakes. Only by doing so they can test hypotheses that can eventually lead to a successful product. Companies that don’t allow their employees to try different ways of working or new solutions might get stuck in time, therefore it would fail to innovate. More than that, when companies overreact when mistakes are made it can influence people to hide their slip-ups, what could create an unproductive culture and eventually hurt profits. 
The continuous process of Lean Startup to build, measure and learn can create an approach to validate a vision for a product. Lean Startup, as Design Thinking and Agile, can help companies minimizing uncertainty. When something fails, it is possible to evolve, pivot and test something new.

Making the same mistake twice

It is not unusual to listen to more experienced colleagues in a company that what you are planning to do they already tried and it failed. So what to do in this situation? Is it wise to let it go or blindly move forward, risking to make the same mistake twice? Neither. A good idea would be one that it is possible to discuss what went wrong, check if the scenario has changed and check what can be done differently. But, as Lean have already taught us very predictable scenarios or processes probably won’t show you a different outcome. If you got burned while putting your hand in a fire once, try not to do it again. Most, products today are released on markets that are not predictable, therefore it alright, after, understanding if there is a possibility of having a new outcome to “do the same mistake twice”. As the quote at the beginning of this article states, making the same mistake twice is a choice, or it should be.

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