+353 1 9055720 manoj@reeinvent.me

Today, I went to a very interesting talk at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.  It was give by Jessica Hayden from the Innovation Academy at UCD.  (Thank you Jessica for an excellent presentation).

While her talk was about Design Thinking (An approach I recommend to everyone)  and the importance of empathy and taking another perspective in developing innovative solutions was excellent, what I particularly enjoyed was her talk about the female innovator Bette Nesmith Graham. as it got me thinking about mistakes, and the opportunities they offer once one recognizes them.

It also reminded me when I have found an error in the way something is done, and when I went to my manager to tell them about my discovery, my boss’s first response would be to make sure it was not our “fault”

Fix the problem – not the blame

Most of you may not of heard of her but if you have ever used Tippex or Liquid Paper then you have used what she invented.


She worked as a secretary at Texas Bank and Trust. She eventually attained the position of the executive secretary, the highest position open at that time to women in the industry.

It was difficult to erase mistakes made by early electric typewriters, which caused problems. In order to make extra money she used her talent painting holiday windows at the bank. She realized, as she said, “with lettering, an artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error. So I decided to use what artists use. I put some tempera water-based paint in a bottle and took my watercolor brush to the office. I used that to correct my mistakes.”

Graham secretly used her white correction paint for five years, making some improvements with help from her son’s chemistry teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. Some bosses admonished her against using it, but coworkers frequently sought her “paint out.” She eventually began marketing her typewriter correction fluid as “Mistake Out” in 1956. The name was later changed to Liquid Paper when she began her own company.

Mistake Out started the 1960s operating at a small loss, with Nesmith’s home doubling as company headquarters. As the product became an indispensable tool of the secretarial trade, Nesmith relocated production and shipping from her kitchen to a 10×26-foot portable metal structure in her backyard, where packaging, shipping, and production were centered.[4]

In 1979 she sold Liquid Paper to the Gillette Corporation for USD $47.5 million. At the time, her company employed 200 people and made 25 million bottles of Liquid Paper per year.


Now what was interesting for me was also the way Jessica framed it in the context of the culture of not admitting mistakes.

Now the reality is that making mistakes is a part of day to day life, the issue is not about not making them, but to admitting them and realising that sometimes there s an opportunity in fixing the mistake (which happens naturally)

Mistakes are wonderful opportunities. if we are willing to accept that we are human and everyone can make mistakes.

In research and invention, one may find a 10,000 ways not to do it before we find the right way/answer.

As James Joyce said


The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr said, “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made.”

If we accept mistakes as part of the feedback loop, then learning improves if people occasionally make errors. We remember things better and longer if we are challenged. So, it turns out that getting it wrong just means you’re moving one step closer to getting it right! Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

My advice to people the people I mentor is

  1. One can only fix a problem once we admit to it.
  2. One also has to take a systems approach to things and first ask ourselves if one is part of the problem or part of the solution.
  3. one should take an anthropological approach (watch and observe people in their natural surrpoundngs and how they do things and why)
  4. and not jump to the first answer.

Also as Jessica pointed out as part of the design thinking approach, one should take an anthropological approach (like recommended in why people buy by Paco Underhill,) looking at how people use your product and why they do things is critical to improving your product and filling a need.