An October 16 article in the New York Times explained how one smart CEO handles big mistakes by his employees. Dan Schneider doesn’t berate, he doesn’t scream, he doesn’t even reprimand. Instead, he has the mistake maker throw the staff an ice cream party. “I don’t really yell anymore because it accomplishes nothing,” he says.
Now, there’s some evidence that drawing attention to a mistake makes your learner more likely to repeat it. But usually when you make a big fat mistake on the job, you are well aware already! No attention need be drawn. Schneider’s response is brilliant. He imposes a cost (ice cream isn’t cheap), but that cost doesn’t involve fear. In a workplace with a collegial atmosphere, I’m willing to bet it’s not humiliating either. And the experience of sharing pleasure at the ice cream party could encourage staff to respond to errors not by trying to hide them but by trying to fix them.
It’s very similar with dogs…
When you’re training your dog and she makes a mistake, there’s a cost — she doesn’t get the reward she was working for. And she has to try again. It can be frustrating not to get what you want, but it’s hardly ever scary or upsetting. So your dog is willing to keep trying, because the upside of trying is always so much better than the downside of making a mistake.
That NYTimes article comes with a little postscript from a well-intentioned letter-writer who suggested that since Ice Cream Is Bad for You, Schneider should have mistake makers hold a … wait for it … a cottage cheese party. You know, I like cottage cheese. Sort of. But “cottage cheese party” just doesn’t have that festive ring.
I think if I wanted to make everybody on my staff, not just the mistake maker, feel glum and penitent, a cottage cheese party would be a pretty good move. But if we want to encourage anyone, human or dog, to keep on trying, then glum and penitent is not the way to go. The attitude I like to see in a dog I’m working with is “Hey! Let’s try again!” I bet Dan Schneider would make a great dog trainer.