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The advantage of making mistakes

The only path to a breakthrough involves enduring many mistakes, but great engineers understand the potentially positive impact of learning from these faults.


Our engineers understand the positive effects of mistakes and the ways they can lead to better understanding and new progress.


Famously, Scottish Scientist Alexander Fleming accidentally left a Petri dish uncovered, which led to the discovery of Penicillin. One mistake eventually led to widespread use of the antibiotic, simply because Fleming analyzed his mistake and learned from it.


Girlstart Executive Director Tamara Hudgins sees mistakes as a learning opportunity in her after-school programs. One of their projects teaches girls to fly drones, but she doesn’t discourage the students from breaking them, as fixing the drones leads to a better understanding of the technology itself.




"The engineering design process is central to every single program that we do,” Hudgins said. “We do focus on the scientific method in Girlstart After-School, but it is really through the process of engineering. I can say that every girl who participates in either Girlstart After-School or Girlstart Summer Camp knows the engineering process by heart because she lives it. We want girls to rebuild."


Here at NI, we also see the long-term positive effects of current mistakes. Larry Hawkins, a Learning and Development Program Manager for the sales department, manages a five-week program for new employees starting in the sales force. It took him almost a year of tough training sessions to nail the program down, but he now considers it a “fully-polished machine.”


“But it wasn’t discouraging, it was exciting,” Hawkins said. “I like fixing things, and the moment you fix something completely, there’s no longer a challenge. Part of engineering is being excited about these challenges.”


The excitement of failure is what sets engineers apart from other professions. Where many jobs require minimal to no errors, engineers expect mistakes so they can see the challenges which need fixing. For Tamara Hudgins at Girlstart, teaching this excitement is one of the core functions of the program.


“Girls are worried about screwing up, messing up, making mistakes, having other people see they're making mistakes, and the perceived consequences of making a mistake,” Hudgins said. “We want girls to fail, fail fast, and fail frequently, and then redesign in order to get the best solution. Rebuilding is part of the fun, it does not have any negative connotations here.”