I have a magnet on my desk with the message “always make new mistakes.” When I saw it at Wild Oats I bought it because, at the time, I was involved in several projects at work that felt like instant replays of projects from my distant and not-too-distant past.

But even now — and in fact, every day — it comes in handy as a reminder that making mistakes can be extremely valuable, just as long as you learn from them.

Last year, I managed the redesign of our web site’s checkout function to allow new customers to pass through without having to register. When we finally launched it to 100% of our audience, it had a glitch that prevented many users from being able to check out at all. In one day, that error cost the company about $17,000.

Luckily, we resolved the issue and re-launched, and the checkout process has been successful, certainly earning back many times what it cost that day. (The CFO jokingly asked me that day if he should just take the $17K out of my paycheck, and I said sure, as long as I get to keep what I bring in, too.)

Today I realized that even while redesigning the checkout, I completely overlooked a similar process on the site that is totally inconsistent with the way we handle checkout and very probably confusing as hell for our users. I mean, of course there are loads of things wrong with our site — we’re working on a complete overhaul, but it will be a gradual process — but the two processes in question are areas that I personally touched last year and attempted to optimize, apparently blind to how unnecessarily different they are.

It’s always tempting to beat myself up at a realization like that, and think what a terrible job I’ve done. But I haven’t done a terrible job — I’ve incrementally improved two important areas of the site, and now the right thing to do is to make them work well together.

I have another desk-top adage in the form of a cardboard sign with an image of Snoopy and, in German (I found it in Germany 15 years ago), “As long as you learn new tricks, no one can call you an old dog.”

Woof.

Always make new mistakes

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