The Happy Engineer Podcast

115: Fail Early (Not Often) and Succeed Later with Mark Graban | Award-Winning Author | Lean Engineering Expert

In this episode, we take a deep look at “The Mistakes that Make Us” with the award-winning author of a new book by that title, Mark Graban.

If your company struggles with cultivating a culture of learning and innovation that keeps you and your peers engaged, then you will deeply appreciate what Mark has discovered through his research and practical discovery as a Lean expert and consultant.

We cover a crucial distinction between mistakes and failure, how you don’t actually fear failure, how engineers can be a part of creating the culture at work rather than being a victim of it.

Mark has over half a million followers on LinkedIn who rely on him to help them synthesize and practice methods including Lean management, continuous improvement, statistical methods, and people-centered leadership approaches.

Mark has published multiple breakthrough books, earned a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern University, and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and M.B.A. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Leaders for Global Operations Program.

So press play and let’s chat… it might not be perfect but it’s our mistakes that make us!

Join us in a live webinar for deeper training, career Q&A, and FREE stuff!  HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach

Get access to bonus content and live coaching as growth-minded leaders build careers together. Join our Facebook Group


The Happy Engineer Podcast



[00:01:52] Finding balance in preventing and learning from mistakes.

[00:06:59] Mistakes can lead to failure, but not always.

[00:09:11] Fear of failure hinders progress, embrace mistakes.

[00:13:58] Individual and organizational levels of learning from mistakes, creating psychological safety, sharing and learning from mistakes.

[00:18:33] Toyota’s consistent response to mistakes is powerful.

[00:22:28] Embrace emotions, be kind in improvement process.

[00:27:28] Shared mistakes, learning, and cultivating kindness.

[00:31:29] Acknowledge mistakes, build psychological safety, cultivate culture.

[00:35:42] “Snap simple. Big win on URLs. Book club, book giveaway. Mistakes that make us. Better questions for better answers.”

[00:37:52] Simplicity. Learning. Gratitude. Generosity. Tremendous impact.





Previous Episode 114: Do You Need a Vacation? Go from Escape to Energy by Shifting the Vacation Paradigm


Shifting Perspectives: The Power of System Thinking – Unlocking Success Through Lifestyle Engineering

In our journey through life, it’s all too easy to blame ourselves when things don’t go as planned. 

We tend to focus on personal shortcomings and lack of discipline, overlooking the underlying systems that shape our experiences. 

However, a powerful lesson from Toyota’s transformative culture teaches us the importance of separating blame from the individual and instead directing it towards the system. 

By applying this mindset to our own lives, we can initiate profound shifts and unlock new levels of success.

Recognizing the System

Just like Toyota’s approach, we need to acknowledge that we are part of a larger system. Rather than blaming ourselves for perceived failures or shortcomings, we should step back and examine the systems we have created around our lives. 

It’s crucial to understand that we have the power to shape and change these systems to align with our goals and aspirations.

The Story of Anthony

Anthony’s struggle with neck pain and his commitment to physical therapy serve as a perfect illustration of redesigning one’s life system.

Instead of blaming himself for lacking discipline, Anthony realized the need to approach the situation like an engineer. By reevaluating his daily routines, he identified opportunities for improvement and introduced effective changes to his system.

Designing a Better System

When faced with implementing new habits or actions, we often fall short due to relying solely on discipline or willpower. 

Instead, we need to focus on designing better systems that support our desired outcomes. Anthony’s success in adhering to his physical therapy routine was not driven by sheer willpower but by intentionally redesigning his environment.

Shaping Your Environment

To overcome challenges and reach our goals, we must think like engineers and shape our environments accordingly. By incorporating creative solutions, we can set ourselves up for success. 

It may involve adding reminders, creating visual cues, or modifying existing routines to facilitate desired behaviors. Through thoughtful design, we can make it easier to stay on track and achieve our aspirations.

Embracing the Lifestyle Engineering Blueprint

If you find yourself struggling to break free from unproductive patterns, seeking support can be immensely valuable. 

The Lifestyle Engineering Blueprint program offers a transformative experience to help individuals design better systems and create lasting change in their careers and lives. 

By joining this program, you gain access to practical ideas, personalized coaching, and a supportive cohort to accelerate your growth.

Are you ready to stop blaming yourself and start redesigning your life for success? Shift your perspective from personal blame to system thinking. 

Join us on this exciting journey of personal transformation by booking a call with us at this link

Let’s work together to shape your environment, overcome obstacles, and unlock your true potential. 

Remember, this approach applies to every aspect of your life. It’s time to embrace the power of system design and create a life that aligns with your dreams and aspirations. 

Let’s do this!



Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, published author, professional speaker, blogger, podcaster, and entrepreneur.

He builds upon a deep education in engineering and management with practical experience working with executives and frontline employees in multiple industries. He synthesizes and practices approaches, including Lean management, continuous improvement, statistical methods, and people-centered leadership to cultivate psychological safety and employee engagement.

Mark helps others learn how to improve and sustain performance. In his healthcare work, this means improving the quality of care and patient safety while reducing cost and improving the workplace experience. Across multiple sectors, goals also include improving the customer (or patient) experience, helping develop leaders and employees, and building more robust, adaptive organizations for the long term.

He has learned, practiced, and taught these methodologies in settings including manufacturing, healthcare, and technology startups, working independently since 2010. Mark often works in partnership with other consulting groups on larger engagements. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology and software company KaiNexus and has a small equity stake.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Mark, welcome to the Happy Engineer Podcast. Glad you’re here, man. 

[00:00:03] Mark Graban: Zach, thanks for having me. I guess I should say I’m happy to be here. 

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:08] Zach White: I mean, it would be a bit of a disappointment if we started the Happy Engineer Podcast in a bad or sad mood, so I’m, I’m glad to hear that. Um, mark, it was fun before we hit record today to catch up on a very, somewhat random point of connection in our history around your body of work.

[00:00:27] An expertise in Lean, which every engineer I’ve ever coached in some capacity, whether it’s through Agile on the software side or true lean manufacturing or Lean PD, is exposed to the importance of lean principles in engineering. And I was thinking back to my old days in the Lean Experience training through the Lean Learning Center with Jamie fba.

[00:00:50] Yeah. Where we built these Connects airplanes and it was a, you know, build your manufacturing system and working through the lean principles to build these things. Like, I forget how fast it was, but it was really hard. It was one of the most engaging trainings I’ve ever done. And I mentioned to you this unexpected and unintentional consequence of lean training.

[00:01:12] That I’d love for you to riff on with me because mm-hmm. We learn all these skills and tools to improve production systems or product development systems, or our own workflows. Mm-hmm. But we end up sometimes walking away with this belief system or fear of failures that we need to design out every possible failure and that failure is bad.

[00:01:34] And don’t make mistakes. Don’t make mistakes, make it perfect. Right. Flawless execution That’s maybe not how, how it was attended. And I was wondering if you could just start there and tell us a little bit about your, your lean background mm-hmm. And where we pick up these mindsets in our engineering careers.

[00:01:52] Mark Graban: That’s a great question. It’s a multi-layered question. There’s a lot going on there. Like, first off, for one, um, yeah. Shout out to Jamie. I’ve known Jamie for. More than 20 years now. He was a, a year ahead of me at the same engineering and MBA program. Oh, no way. At mi at mit. So, cool. And we, have become really good friends and we, we do a podcast together occasionally called Lean Whiskey, where we talk a lot about lean, a little bit about, whiskey and Jamie’s great.

[00:02:19] but you know, to your question, I mean, I think as with many things like the, it’s a matter of finding a balance. I think back to the training and the experience I’ve had working with former Toyota people like the, it always comes back to like this word balance yes, you’re right. We want to design out mistakes proactively.

[00:02:42] We want to create systems that are, uh, full of mistake proofing. robust systems, that’s, that’s important. Like our engineer tra engineering training and brains are, really attuned to that. At the same time, it’s really hard to expect that we would do a perfect job of designing out and preventing mistakes.

[00:03:04] It’s just not likely, especially in complex changing systems. there are simple situations where simple mechanical or electromechanical mistake proofing can be designed and works perfectly. But with all of that intent of, of trying to mistake proof things, there’s still that question of then how will we respond or how will our manager, or how will our organization respond when a mistake still happens?

[00:03:33] Yeah. And hopefully that response is not punitive, but instead kind and constructive so that we can learn from the mistake. Because if we’re punished for those mistakes, we’re gonna protect ourselves and learn to hide the mistakes when we can or drive them underground and then the organization can’t learn and benefit.

[00:03:55] From those mistakes. So there’s, there’s this balance of not being flippant and not saying like, ah, it doesn’t matter. We’ll learn from our mistakes. You know, we’ll iterate, it’s fine. There are certain mistakes that would be really bad and we want to do everything we can to prevent. But then at the same time, realizing, okay, when mistakes do happen, let’s, let’s make sure we can use them to our future benefit.

[00:04:17] Zach White: Yeah. The, the culture aspect of how we respond to mistakes. I know we’re gonna dig deeper in and relates, uh, to the topic of your new book. Yeah. But the word balance, the word that popped into my mind right after that, and I want your perspective, was the word binary. And I feel like so often we see. Yeah.

[00:04:37] Each failure as either good or bad, we’ve either succeeded or failed, and we tend to take this black or white. Mm-hmm. Binary view of balance. Right. Which side of the scale did I land on? Yeah. Yeah. Can you address that and, and would you say there’s times when binary is good or true? Or is this a continuum?

[00:04:56] How do you look at it? 

[00:04:58] Mark Graban: yeah. The real world’s messy, right? There’s the, it’s the gray area. It’s the numbers in between. Zero and one. And, and, and that’s where, I mean, for all of the strengths and benefits that come from an engineering education, one of the things to try to work past is the idea that we can calculate the answer.

[00:05:18] Mm-hmm. In a known and definitive way. What’s expected of us in a lot of engineering courses, calculate the answer. And in the real world, again, it’s messy. We, we may have. A solid hypothesis that we can go and test. We might have a concept or a design that’s agreed upon as being 85% correct and now let’s go pilot the change.

[00:05:46] Let’s test the idea, then iterate on top of a good idea. So back to the word balance again. There’s a balance between not being, irresponsible and just throwing stuff against the wall, quote unquote. But at the same time, if, if we in certain situations are spending so much time trying to have the perfect solution before we move forward, we’ll get stuck in analysis paralysis.

[00:06:10] Yeah. And not be willing to move forward. So again, like a lot of it is situational, like testing a rocket and knowing that there’s a chance that it might explode. There’s some reason to not test those rockets with humans on board. Right. There’s also a time and a place to learn from past practice and learn from the mistakes others have made before to not have too many rockets exploding, maybe unnecessarily.

[00:06:37] Zach White: This relationship that we have to failure. Or mistakes. Mm-hmm. And I do wanna get curious on maybe the distinction between those two words for you. There’s a difference, I think. Yeah. Yeah. Well, maybe we start there really quick. What is the distinguishing factor between a failure and a mistake?

[00:06:58] Mm-hmm. Yeah. 

[00:07:00] Mark Graban: I think they’re related, but they’re not synonyms. Right? So to me, a mistake It’s an actionary decision that turns out to be. Wrong in some way, or not wholly correct to, to there. There’s, you know, not binary. Right, wrong, good, bad success fail.

[00:07:16] Yeah. But the mistake is the decision, a failure to me is an outcome, right? So a mistake could lead to a failure. And I don’t mean that again, to be zero one binary, black and white thinking. some failures, um, Or the result of, factors other than mistakes, right? We could do everything right and still fail.

[00:07:42] failure. I mean, that’s, that’s a tough word because I, I think there’s a lot of gray in Toyota thinking. We think of what was the gap between expected outcome and actual outcome. Yes. That’s all gray area, right? So if we fall a little bit short of our expectation, I. Is that a failure?

[00:08:02] Well, no. I’d say, okay, well there’s a gap, and then we can identify that gap and hopefully we’re in a psychologically safe environment where we can learn from the gap instead of having to defend ourselves of why we didn’t get the perfect performance that we might have predicted or hoped for. 

[00:08:19] Zach White: I love this.

[00:08:20] I, I’ve never heard the words intentionally separated this way. Maybe the dictionary’s always been this way, mark, I’ve just never noticed. But failure being an outcome. Mm-hmm. And how we define the targets and what failure means, not withstanding. Yeah. The mistake. Yeah. Being the decision or the input side.

[00:08:38] So input versus output. Yeah. Yeah. And I love that distinction. And then what happens to me, and I know for my clients who I coach, we tend to then smash these two things together. And the fear of failure makes us afraid to make a mistake the believed perceived failures that may come creates. This culture around mistakes, to your point earlier on the, the people side.

[00:09:02] And so where did you first become sensitive to the, like, hey, the culture around this? In engineering and in companies? Mm-hmm. Some something’s broken here. 

[00:09:12] Mark Graban: I can’t point to a moment. I think some of it was, there’s many influences there. I think some of this was just gradual. Recognition. Um, I, I did want you, you prompted a thought though that, um, I’m gonna go ahead share.

[00:09:24] When you talk about fear of failure, I don’t know if it’s fear of failure, it’s the outcome beyond the failure. It might be fear of punishment, in some cases punishing ourselves. or fear of being punished. Fire organization. I think that’s the thing that people really fear more.

[00:09:40] Mm-hmm. Than the quote unquote failure. Because if we’re in a culture where we are allowed to view or encouraged to view or supported in viewing, I love this phrase, uh, uh, a failure being a stepping stone to success. it’s healthy to view that, or, or, or, or gap that way as a, as a stepping stone.

[00:10:00] Let’s, let’s learn from it. Let’s not, deny the role that our decisions made and that failure, cuz then we’re just gonna be. Repeating them. you know, Silicon Valley phrase I like to poke at sometimes. I know this is veering from the question, we’ll get back to your question, sorry.

[00:10:14] But, um, fail early, fail often. I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. I would say fail early, succeed later. there’s people in Silicon Valley who I think are correct in bringing up this idea that, okay, we need to embrace failure quote unquote fail forward.

[00:10:29] I’m like, okay. I like that phrase, fail forward. Towards success. But I appreciate the people who point out the idea, like, let’s not make it a failure fetish. Yes, we don’t love failure anymore than we love mistakes, but we can frame it in something that’s more positive so that we can use it as a way to move forward.

[00:10:48] So, you know, I think I’ve had influences, even going back to the beginning of my career in General Motors, thinking of like two different plant managers that I worked under. One that, was definitely a, uh, a culture of fear. A culture of punishment. even if it wasn’t your fault, even if it wasn’t your mistake.

[00:11:06] Yeah. Versus a second plant manager who had the benefit of Toyota training, looking more at systems and supporting people instead of just judging and blaming them. Then a lot of it, unfortunately, is sort of on the negative side in healthcare where I’ve done a lot of my work since 2005, unless proven otherwise.

[00:11:26] The expectation is the culture is one of naming, blaming and shaming. What happens when someone goes wrong, naming, blaming, and shaming? I’m like, that’s so counterproductive over time of if you were really looking to reduce mistakes and reduce harm to patients, punishing each mistake that happens.

[00:11:46] It’s just not the pathway to get there. Yeah. Um, you know, if you think simplistically, well, mistakes are bad, and if I punish mistakes, people will learn not to make ’em. I’m like, that’s, that’s just not how the world works really. there’s a lot of inspiration or drive that comes from trying to help healthcare shift that culture.

[00:12:06] Now, to be fair, there are some leaders and some organizations that are moving in a much more positive direction. But the punitive norm. In healthcare, it reminds me more of General Motors 1995 than it would remind me of Toyota of any year of the last 35. 25. 25. Good math for an engineer.

[00:12:27] No, don’t edit that out. It’s my mistake. It’s okay. I’m not that old. 

[00:12:32] Zach White: Uhoh Uhoh mark’s. Give it away. Give it away. Some insider information here. Well, you know, I love what you just shared. I’ll echo a sentiment that I coach with our clients at Oasis of Courage when we talk about fear. and the relationship we have to fear.

[00:12:47] Fear of failure, I often say is more closely related to a fear of judgment. Sure. And to your point, it’s like the punishment, it’s how will the company react? What will my boss say? Will I lose my job? You know, it’s not about failing the test or the failure itself, It’s this idea of, you know, if no one else were around, if nobody else would ever find out, most engineers actually look forward to the opportunity to test and fail, to let things break and learn.

[00:13:13] It’s like we enjoy breaking stuff, but not when other people see that. And then blame, shame, complain of the things you mentioned. So. I wanna talk about your book then and link this because the new book title, the Mistakes That Make Us mm-hmm. Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation, and just the idea that there are such big swings in this culture between industries, between companies, between individual leaders, and maybe even within ourselves in certain contexts.

[00:13:47] Here I respond this way here, here I respond that way, so, What’s the sort of central thesis that you’ve discovered around the mistakes that make us mm-hmm. 

[00:13:58] Mark Graban: there’s two levels. One is sort of on an individual level and then there’s one on an organization level.

[00:14:03] Um, one is the reminder. We all make mistakes. We’re all human. So what, what matters is, an ability, uh, to learn from them. there’s, two pieces of, yeah. How do we react to our own mistakes? Like I’m, I’m happy when I’m doing new things. I get unhappy at myself for making, a mistake.

[00:14:25] I’m like, oh, that was sloppy. When I step back and say, well, um, Are there certain things that I habits or certain things that I do of like, am I rushing through my work unnecessarily that will increase the risk of error so I can try to be a little bit more mindful of recognizing, okay, hey, you’re, you’re, you’re rushing, slow down.

[00:14:44] Right? And that doesn’t mean I’m gonna be perfect, but I might catch, or I might reduce some of the opportunity for mistakes. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And then I think, in a workplace there’s this need. To create, psychological safety and leaders can’t mandate that. Leaders can’t say, Hey, this is a safe environment.

[00:15:05] You should feel safe speaking up, like, well, that can only be proven true, maybe over time. Right. 

[00:15:10] Zach White: Leaders can encourage it. Hold on. You’re saying you can’t just declare a zone psychologically safe and it becomes that Mark. I mean, you, you can try, 

[00:15:18] Mark Graban: but I, I would say that doesn’t work cuz you know, there’s a question of people do, do people believe you?

[00:15:22] So what I’ve been fortunate to learn now from the realm of psychological safety is the, the idea that that leaders can lead by example, by sharing their own mistakes. And what they learned and how they’ve adjusted. Um, that, that leaders can admit moments when they were wrong, or instead of being all knowing and saying, Hey, I, I have an idea.

[00:15:43] I know it’s going to work. Let’s implement it. Like, no. Okay. That might work. Or maybe more realistically, you’ve got a really solid hypothesis about something that will be effective. Let’s go test that change. Like a little bit of humility. Yeah. Of, of distinguishing between when we know versus when we need to go test and when we can do those things.

[00:16:03] People are more likely then to feel safe they can decide to feel safe sharing. Mistakes or doubts or the need to go test something, that culture of reducing the risk, I think is more effective than telling people you should be brave or that you should feel safe. Mm-hmm. So, I mean, that’s, that’s one of the core themes.

[00:16:22] And you know, I think a lot of this came out of, you know, I started interviewing people on the My Favorite Mistake podcast. I didn’t know it was really all going in this direction, but hearing people’s stories, it’s so easy to want to go on a podcast and share all the great things you’ve done. But when, when I think, you know, really successful people are willing to come and share, here’s a mistake, but better yet, here’s what I learned from it.

[00:16:46] Here’s how it maybe benefited me in some way. That sets a good example for others. And, um, again, on that individual level. And they say, well, if they’ve made mistakes, they’ve either succeeded in spite of the mistakes or sometimes through the mistakes if they’ve learned. And then, you know, as I was kind of processing and thinking through and looking for patterns and stories from companies like Toyota on one level, software company, Connexus at a younger company, smaller scale.

[00:17:16] Like what are the stories that help illustrate the organizational culture where it’s safe to speak up about mistakes? Because instead of being, punished in a reactive way, it’s, it’s viewed as an opportunity for learning and growth and prevention of future mistakes. 

[00:17:34] this book concept evolved a lot. Yeah, over a year from a kind of simple idea of like, I’m gonna package a bunch of my guest stories to realizing, I think there are a couple core themes now to, to build around and use those stories to support that, that theme and thesis instead of being the 

[00:17:50] Zach White: book.

[00:17:50] Yes. So we’ll put a link to the My Favorite Mistake podcast in the show notes For sure. And I know every engineering leader that I’ve ever coached will want to tune in because it’s a topic near to our, our hearts. How did we take, yeah, there we go. For those on the YouTube channel. My favorite mistake. I love that.

[00:18:08] So if you’re on the audio only, you missed a, a beautiful mug with Mark’s mug on it. so right. Tell me, is there a story for you that really stands out as embodying the, the right kind of culture? Either because it was so wrong that it highlighted what’s right, or it was right either from the podcast or your own life?

[00:18:29] Mark, what’s the one that really stands out to you? 

[00:18:33] Mark Graban: I know you said the one, but I’m gonna share, there’s a couple stories that make clear. there’s a pretty consistent culture across Toyota, and again, I’m not trying to say black or white, good or bad, that they’re perfect. Other companies aren’t. But there’s two stories in the podcast and in the book one from Japan in the late 1960s, Asino.

[00:18:55] And then the other was the late 1980s Georgetown, Kentucky, David Meyer. Um, and, and both of their stories are similar. One was a paint department, one was a, a bumper part molding department, but you know, there was a production defect. And in both cases, like the root of the problem was basically, either putting the wrong, chemical into the paint machine, putting the wrong chemical into the molding machine.

[00:19:24] In both cases there was this, consistent, not coincidental, but consistent organizational response that didn’t blame quote unquote the person who made the mistake. Cuz they’re working in a system. There’s a lot of people working in that system. Why was the wrong chemical even there to be loaded into the machine?

[00:19:44] The response was very consistent of, Reminding, quote unquote, the person involved. It wasn’t your mistake, it was an organizational failing. If anything, we let you down. We’re sorry. Let’s learn. Let’s look at the root cause and figure out how to prevent that from happening again. those stories are powerful.

[00:20:06] And there’s other stories I’ve heard from. Other settings, other Toyota people that I wasn’t necessarily able to put into the book. Now, do they react that way 100% of the time? I would say probably not, because the company’s not perfect. People aren’t perfect. there’s the values and what we want the culture to be.

[00:20:23] And sometimes there are gaps where people fall short for different reasons. But, you know, I think those stories, are just really powerful to think of. Again, different decades, different countries, different settings. really powerful example that I think we can really learn from and try to apply to other industries, other companies, other settings.

[00:20:44] Zach White: I tell my clients all the time, bad systems beat good people. Mm-hmm. Every time. Mm-hmm. I dunno if Maybe Peter Drucker gets credit for that. I’m sure every lean approach I’ve heard de de Deming. Yeah. Like 

[00:20:53] Mark Graban: Deming gets credited with that. I think. Yeah. 

[00:20:55] Zach White: We, they’ve all said it, all the greats have said it. I good think its just good thinking.

[00:20:59] Yeah. I love that, comment you made as a leader for you to. Take a posture of the system has failed you. Right. As an actor in that system. and we’re not gonna blame individual actors. We’re going to assign blame to the system mm-hmm. And work together. On the same side of the table to go address that.

[00:21:22] And yeah. Mark, what I’d love to hear from you, and having coached so many people through this and having now written the book and compiled these stories, your perspective. Mm-hmm. Like, it’s easy for you and me to sit here and talk about this. And I, I get it consciously and makes sense and I agree with it and I want to Yeah.

[00:21:38] Apply it, but then when I make the mistake in my own business mm-hmm. And when I was an engineering leader and I made the mistake myself, I. There at Whirlpool Corporation, especially when it then impacted my team in a negative way. Mm-hmm. Or there was that fear of repercussion from mm-hmm. Senior leadership or whatever.

[00:21:57] Ugh. Like the emotion of that. pain of that. Mm-hmm. The, the reality that you experience on the ground mm-hmm. Is a whole lot different than you and I just chatting about. Yeah. Create a great culture around mistakes. Mm-hmm. So how do you actually. Improve at this and work through the emotion and the fear and the frustration or the whatever, to move the needle and improve the culture, dealing with ourselves and all of that, that comes up.

[00:22:28] How do we get better? Right. 

[00:22:29] Mark Graban: There’s all kinds of emotion. Everything you said, there’s embarrassment, there’s disappointment in ourselves or. In others, and I mean, I think we, we can’t discount or eliminate the emotion. we’re human right. As engineers, we’re gonna tend to the very logical.

[00:22:49] Part of our brain, but we’ve got emotions too, whether we’re willing to express them or embrace them or not. And one thing that’s important, and I think this is either I try to, um, try to direct this toward myself or direct it towards others, is, is kindness. And it’s sometimes easier to be kind toward others than it is to yourself.

[00:23:10] Yes. I’m hard on myself, I’m trying to get better. About that. But when I think of times when, like there’s a story in the book, from some work I was involved Inky Nexus, the overly simplistic, incorrect way of stating it would be, this person made a mistake and ended one of our webinars prematurely.

[00:23:30] there’s more to it than that, right? There were systemic failures and mistakes made, some of which being mine and failing to anticipate, um, the risk. And like, it would be totally unfair to have gotten upset at that person and to have blamed them in some way, because guess what? They already felt bad enough.

[00:23:49] Mm-hmm. Right. And in the com, the phone, or it was a Zoom call? It was probably a Zoom call. Um, I’m not the type who’s gonna just, you know, lay into somebody. It was more of like, help us understand. What happened, but then I, I think, I don’t know if it was a look I, I saw on his face or I became kind of attuned to the emotion of like, this person was really upset.

[00:24:11] Mm-hmm. They didn’t mean to do it Well, of course. Right. I mean, they, I mean, there was no intent. They weren’t sabotaging the webinar. That would be different, that would be addressed differently. It was a mistake. They didn’t know the action they took was going to end. The webinar and, and I realized that we had to take a beat to ask before jumping into root cause analysis, before asking why did this happen?

[00:24:33] What could have allowed this to occur? The necessary question was, how, how are you feeling? Mm-hmm. How are you doing? and if somebody feels bad, don’t say, don’t feel bad, we have to move on. Like, sometimes you have to, just, let that be. For a minute and say like, okay, do, do you need some time?

[00:24:51] Or do, do, we can come back to this later this afternoon. This is not a life or death must be. you know, we must troubleshoot it right now, this instant, you know, to, to give some space. But then I think what helps us, and I think this is true, when I reflect on my own mistakes and sometimes I try to kind of soothe myself, 

[00:25:10] Not dwelling on the feeling, the bad feelings, the embarrassment, the disappointment, the shame, whatever. what allows us to move past that is moving forward now into root cause analysis and process improvement or systems improvement or mistake proofing. then we, uh, I think we can say, 

[00:25:29] we’ve accomplished something and that’s very unlikely or impossible to happen again. We can feel good about that. Mm-hmm. You know, especially when like something, like a webinar again, like it’s not a life or death medical mistake that could, um, harm or kill 

[00:25:44] Zach White: a patient. Yes. I, I really love this for one mark.

[00:25:48] I’m just glad that you are the one saying engineers have emotions too, because I say that all the time and people get tired of hearing it from me, but, I’m relating it on an extreme case to the grief that comes from the loss of a loved one. And there’s that period where you need to have space to grieve and everybody grieves differently.

[00:26:08] Some people experience anger, some people deep sadness or depression or there’s all these different ways individuals experience it. Yeah. But after some space has been given to grieve, there’s then an expectation we gotta get back to life. and there’s a phrase that relates to this like, That person who I loved, who’s now passed on wouldn’t want me mm-hmm.

[00:26:29] To sit here and grieve the rest of my life. What they would want for me is to get back and take mm-hmm. The, the lessons of their relationship to me and the love they had for me and move forward and move on. It’s kind of like that on a micro scale, you know, when you make that mistake, there’s gonna be some emotion, some grief.

[00:26:45] Yeah. There may be things you need to process. but the mistake, the thing that was lost in this instance, wouldn’t want you to not then move on to the root cause work and to improve and grow and get to where you need to go. Mm-hmm. You don’t just sit in the anger for the rest of your career. It’s like, let’s take it now and, and do something with it.

[00:27:04] And I, yeah. I just really admire like that. Leadership from you to recognize that and give the space, but then also lead the next step and the improvement that needs to happen so that we get both benefits the individual feels cared for as a human, and the system gets cared for as an engineering leader.

[00:27:26] Yeah, like that is the big win. 

[00:27:28] Mark Graban: Yeah. Well, I mean, and then where we start, Having what we describe as culture is like, you know, these accumulated experiences and accumulated interactions, and I’m not the only one leading the way with this at KY Nexus. the co-founders, Greg and Matt, other senior leaders, leaders at different levels.

[00:27:45] there are very consistent stories of, the way people react constructively to mistakes. That builds a culture where, you know, we do a, a weekly, uh, all hands, zoom call on Friday. A lot of people are, it’s a hybrid meeting, but anyway, we’re all on there together, whether we’re physically present or not, and I can’t tell you it’s not every single week, but very frequently, somebody on the team will voluntarily share a mistake they made that week.

[00:28:12] Not to shame themselves and not to have abuse piled on them, because that’s not what happens. Nobody’s laughing at them, or, oh, you idiot, uh, you know, yes, uh, your turn to be an idiot. It’s not that at all. But, you know, people are sharing the mistake, in the spirit of, um, Hey, this is something I, you, you can all learn from.

[00:28:30] Learn from my mistake. there was one story. Of somebody. I don’t think, I think this happened pretty recently. I’m pretty sure it’s not in the book, of somebody admitting, Hey, I was, I thought I was waiting on a customer to get back to me.

[00:28:41] And what I discovered, what this person discovered was, um, the email was caught in the outbox. It had never gone out. Their assumption that they were waiting for the customer turned out to be incorrect. And they shared that. and I don’t know if they even came up with a solution, but then our C E O, Greg Jacobson jumped in and said, that’s happened to me.

[00:29:02] Right? So first off, there’s like this validation of, yes, we’re all human. There’s some tech involved, right? But it’s how we’re using the tech. And then he shared something like, well, one thing I do, like he’s big on using a app called Todoist. And he said, I have a weekly reminder on to-do list to check the outbox and make sure nothing’s gotten stuck.

[00:29:21] There you go, in that unsent mode, right? So there was that, validation and coaching and it’s okay, but let’s learn from this, right? Mm-hmm. So it’s, uh, Karen Ross’s a friend of mine, she’s not an engineer. It’s good to know, benefit from the perspectives of non-engineers. But Karen’s been involved with Lean for a long time, and Karen.

[00:29:40] Coached me a lot and, and made the book better by helping me understand the difference between nice and kind. Mm-hmm. And she’s written a book called The Kind Leader. I would recommend to people, you know, nice might be a reaction of like, well, not wanting to point out the mistake, like Zach made a mistake, but I don’t want to point it out because it might make him feel bad.

[00:29:59] And, but then, You, Zach might be then doomed to repeat the mistake cuz you don’t know. Right,nice might be focused on not wanting to make anyone feel bad. We’re kind might be a little challenging or a little uncomfortable, but kindness is helpful. Yeah. Right. So if I share a mistake with the intent of helping you learn and prevent it, I would argue that’s really kind and I think Greg’s response was kind like, it’s not just this whole, oh, it’s okay.

[00:30:30] Don’t feel bad. It was the response to the reaction that takes it a step further of saying, Hey, these things happen, but here’s what I’ve learned. let’s all learn from that and maybe all adopt that practice and, you know, maybe, maybe once a week reminder’s not enough. I think this needs to be a daily, before you go home, if you have a checklist of how you wrap up your day, look at the outbox.

[00:30:52] That takes two seconds. Right? But if you build in that habit or have it on a daily to-do list or a daily checklist, no, you can still improve upon the improvement. Yeah. 

[00:31:01] Zach White: Back to the system there. Yeah. So Mark, if someone wants to take a first step towards creating. Cultivating a culture of learning and innovation through how we approach mistakes.

[00:31:16] Mm-hmm. What is the most important thing to get right out of the gate? What would you give someone as a way to begin? 

[00:31:22] Mark Graban: there’s always this question of do does a leader, if you’re being a leader, work on yourself before you try to help others. So I’ll, I’ll share maybe, I think two first steps depending on the situation.

[00:31:34] One, I think a practice at least that’s been helpful for me is intentionally calling out mistakes I’ve made. Again, not for the purposes of shaming myself or dwelling on it or whatever, but to call it out to acknowledge it. And it could be as simple as, you know, just as you’re interacting with somebody or you, you’re like, oh no, yeah, you’re right.

[00:31:54] My mistake. Um, that meeting’s not on the 16th, it’s on the 23rd. Okay. Then you move on. Right? You don’t make a big deal about it, but just kind of calling out like that, my mistake, I made a mistake. That was like calling it out. I think over time, maybe it takes some of the edge off and you, and to be, aware of like, no, how many mistakes we make all day long, but we might still be successful anyway.

[00:32:16] Like none of these little mistakes are killing us, so just acknowledge ’em. Try to learn from them when we can. I think just that, that habit of calling it out and then now I think when a leader does that, this comes back to building psychological safety. Mm-hmm. Modeling, what they call this vulnerable act, admitting a mistake creates risk, risk of some sort of punishment or harm or loss.

[00:32:39] But when a leader’s doing that and setting that example, others then might follow. The example Yes. Of admit of admitting a mistake and sharing what they did or admitting mistake and asking for help. Right. And I think that’s the powerful thing at, Toyota is that mistakes or problems or someone pulling the Andon cord is supposed to generate a helpful response.

[00:33:01] Mm-hmm. Yes. And I think that’s true at, at conexus and other companies that, have been working to cultivate this sort of culture and. it was a gift of mine, actually. My friend, um, Don, who did the cover design for me, the artist, who did that, I’ve known him a long time, was trying to figure out the subtitle.

[00:33:18] And at first I was using a word creating. I’m like, well, creating sounds a little too much like a project. Like, oh, we created the culture and now we like, well, no, it’s really, he, he suggested the word cultivating, like, I don’t have a garden. But you think of like cultivating a garden. It’s an ongoing.

[00:33:36] Process, if you want the garden to keep growing and to not just survive, but thrive. I think the same is true with the culture. It’s not a one-time effort of a leader making a pronouncement or saying, well, okay, well it’s now safe to share your mistakes. Or we now declare this. We now declare this. A culture of continuous improvement.

[00:33:56] You must speak up. That’s right. With your ideas. I’m like, well, no. If there’s been a pattern in a history of fear and punishment, we have to now demonstrate in very active ways. Yeah. We’re changing. We can’t say it’s changed. We’re only, I think, changing. and try to bring our team or our organization along with us.

[00:34:17] Zach White: It takes it all the way back to the very first comment around balance and mm-hmm. You know, it’s continuing that. But yes, every culture initiative is an ongoing one. The repetition of those experiences, I absolutely crucial. Well, mark, I wanna give the whole roadmap to everyone today, but we don’t have time for that, so.

[00:34:36] Where can people get a copy of the book and really plug in with your work? if they’re, inspired by this and know the importance and the value of cultivating a culture of learning and innovation, give us that information. Where can we find. Everything we want. Yeah. I’m, 

[00:34:52] Mark Graban: I’m gonna hold up.

[00:34:53] Here’s, here’s cover design for, uh, the folks on YouTube. it is available, I mean, most books these days are bought through Amazon, so it’s available, uh, at Amazon in, uh, paperback hard cover and Kindle versions. Um, it’ll probably be also available through other retailers. the, the book and publishing supply chain.

[00:35:14] Works a little bit more slowly, but the quickest and easiest way. it would definitely be first available through Amazon. Um, people can also learn more and order the [email protected]. They can find links to different places they can buy the book if they wanted, uh, to buy a signed copy or if they like the book and want to do a bulk order for their team or their organization.

[00:35:34] Yeah, awesome. I can certainly, make that happen at some win-win pricing. Um, again, mistakes I managed to snap a pretty 

[00:35:43] Zach White: simple, yeah, I was gonna say huge win on the URL side there. Domains are hard to come by, so we’ll make sure all those links are in the show notes for the happy engineers out there.

[00:35:53] And definitely, you know, a book club or a way to. Plug in with your organization, get everybody a copy of. This is a great idea. So definitely reach out to Mark if you have any questions about that. And um, mark, I mentioned before we recorded that I would love to be involved in supporting the book and so happy engineer listening if you want a signed copy of Mark’s new book.

[00:36:16] The Mistakes That Make Us, I will be. Sending three of those to the first three people who email me directly with that book title in the subject line. And of course, I need your address to be able to send you that copy. Mark has kindly offered to create, uh, three of those signed copies of his book. We’ll get that to you to the first three people who hear this in email.

[00:36:41] [email protected]. So shoot me a note with the mistakes that make us in the subject line and your address where you want that signed copy shipped. So Mark, thank you for your generosity in making that happen. And thank you. Let’s end where I always do. I’m excited to hear your thoughts, mark. You know, great coaching, the work you do, great engineering, which you’re not a stranger to has in common.

[00:37:06] the lean training taught us this as well, so you’ll appreciate that. Questions lead. And answers follow. Mm-hmm. And if we want better answers in our life, we need to ask better questions. Yes. So if someone is inspired by this and wants to experience a better culture around mistakes, if they want to advance in their career, have more of the good life.

[00:37:27] Mm-hmm. What would be the question that you would lead the happy engineer with today? 

[00:37:32] Mark Graban: I’m gonna share a question that comes from the Toyota stories. The question that gets asked after a mistake, even a multi a mistake, that leads to a multi-million dollar bad result. The question, I think it’s a helpful question.

[00:37:46] What did we learn today? That’s a really powerful question. 

[00:37:51] Zach White: I, I love the simplicity of that. What did we learn today, whether it’s a minor glitch, Or a multi-million dollar mistake, uh, or result, the outcome, the failure. Yeah. What did we learn today? Mark? I learned a ton today. Thank you so much for your generosity.

[00:38:11] I can’t wait to get a copy of the book myself. I got the first chapter from you, but I can’t wait to see the whole thing and go cover to cover. And just wanna acknowledge the work that you’ve done, the, the millions of lives that you’re touching. I know, uh, on LinkedIn. Unbelievable audience and following, and your work is tremendous.

[00:38:27] So highly encourage every happy engineer. Get a copy of the book, plug in with Mark and, uh, shoot me that email. If it’s, you know, the first week of this podcast dropping, make sure you reach out if you want that signed copy. And Mark, thanks again for being here today.