Publisher: Riverhead Books

ISBN: 978-1-59448-785-9

Inspired by a mistake she had made in a column for the New York Times, journalist Alina Tugend was motivated to pursue extensive research into the subject matter of mistakes and the culmination led to her fascinating and well-researched book, Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong.

As Tugend points out in her introduction, unfortunately when we make mistakes we often get punished for them and as a result we endeavor to avoid them and, as much as possible, cover them up. We even rationalize or blame others. She goes onto illustrate how parents and teachers often inadvertently approve such an error-avoidance mindset and how such children grow into adults who fear and dread mistakes. We seem to be living in an environment where people are ashamed to make a mistake, be it big or small, and this feeling is passed unto their children. According to Tugend, “the fear of making mistakes is a cudgel that hangs over so many of us, preventing us from not only taking risks in our personal and professional lives, but even more important really accepting-not just giving lip service to-the truth that we all are human and imperfect.” Unfortunately, many of us are deaf to the sage advice of the British politician Richard Needham who summed up mistakes by pointing out that Strong people make as many mistakes as weak people. Difference is that strong people admit their mistakes, laugh at them, learn from them. That is how they become strong.

Tugend shares with us the wisdom she gathered from a variety of individuals that have all in one way or another contributed to a more enlightening understanding of how mistakes affect us. Among the topics she explores are: differentiating mistakes and how our culture, our environment, our personality, and our biases shape how we respond and learn from them, teaching children that learning is a continuous process and not solely tied to rewards- whether in the form of money or good grades, the implementing of methods that will establish and enhance good communication to cut down on mistakes, what we can learn from airline mistakes, avoiding stereotypes concerning male and female mistakes, learning about other cultures and their approaches to mistakes, apologizing for our mistakes and accepting the apologies of others.

In the concluding remarks of the book, Tugend informs her readers that when she was asked what was the basic concept of her book, she stated that “It explores the tension between the fact we're taught when young that we learn from mistakes, but the reality is that most of us hate and dread them.” Her aim was to try and find out what caused the tension, and how we can return to and internalize the lesson from kindergarten-that mistakes help us because we learn from them. Although, after doing considerable research on the subject, she still maintains that this original thesis remains the same, however, with a few changes that she has made to her initial assumptions. Despite our tendency to focus on trying to avoid mistakes, there is no doubt a great advantage in switching to trying to find out what caused our mistakes and learn from them.

I guess you can say that George Bernard Shaw was right on the mark when he asserted: A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. And as Tugend states, there are no simple fixes concerning thinking about mistakes but we can begin shifting our attitudes starting with our children where we can emphasize effort and downplay results.

Although the title of this book is a trifle misleading, nonetheless its contents will definitely give readers a great deal of food for thought to ponder.

Alina Tugend earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkley, and a master of studies in law from Yale Law School. She has written extensively about education, environmentalism, and consumer culture for numerous publications including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, and Parents. Since 2005, she has written the biweekly consumer column “Shortcuts” for the New York Times business section. Alina lives outside of New York City with her husband and two sons.


Click Here To Purchase Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong