Is mistake such a dirty word in business.

Is “Mistake” Really Such a Dirty Word in Business?

Mistake is a dirty word. In it’s eight letters, its connotation packs mighty punch. One in which we spend most of our lives trying to avoid in our personal and professional lives. In the professional realm, businesses ranging from apparel brands to even fast food joints have corporate bibles laying down the law for what constitutes a perfect product down to the last detail. This is all in an effort to avoid them.

Costly Mistakes 

Mistakes are perceived as bad and costly for business. Cumulative Mistakes create a cost burden on companies by having to increase production to make up for unsellable product. In addition, usually another product or service is offered to the customer for free or a discount to “right the wrong.” And while making things right is synonymous with good business practice, maybe the way in which corporate heads have been viewing mistakes is not in line with how it is conceived by consumers.

HBC At It Again

Harvard Business School conducted a study to test out this theory on human behavior. In the study consumers had to choose whether they would purchase something with a mistake or keep even more money than what the product cost. In the first round, the chef had left a batch of chocolate in the oven for an extra five minutes either intentionally or by accident. Either way the end result was that his mistake led to the creation of a new flavor of chocolate. When participants tasted and found out the new creation was a mistake, they opted to buy the product instead of keeping the money. Interestingly though, when they found out he did it on purpose they chose the money.

This study continued on with a photograph for sale in which the mistakes ranged from over exposure to finger bombing. The same reaction from consumers continued here. The artist made a mistake unintentionally?  Then consumers thought its value increase. The new finding here was that these imperfections in the photograph from a critical standpoint does not enhance the photograph. In fact, they are textbook signs of poor photography.

Perceived Value 

So why on God’s green earth why would a consumer want a product that has a blemish or isn’t meeting certain criteria? Especially when there are rules, guidelines and standards that are employed to ensure that they meet them. I think in this world of mass and copycat production; people want something unique. HBC reports that they think consumers feels mistakes in product creation are more probable than there being no mistakes. Add to it that it feels more genuine. In this age people are attracted to character and a custom item no one else has. In turn, they stated, “the perceived rarity of mistakes increases their value.”

The takeaway? That consumers are attracted to imperfections made my mistake due to its differentiating factor as long as the overall quality is still in tact.


Author:  Christine Duff

Christine wants to live in a world filled with cutting edge fashion, beautiful words and and an endless supply of leather jackets and boots. A product development grad of FIDM, she was the Editor-in-Chief of MODE Magazine where she reignited her love of storytelling. She has diverse experience within the industry with trend research, art direction and styling editorial spreads. She gained her most notable experience working in Los Angeles at the satellite operation for GQ and Vogue Thailand. Christine is passionate about social science and the role it plays in the consumer goods industry and apparel in particular.


Leave a Comment