My Favorite Mistake — 186: Professor John Grout on Preventing Mistakes, Yet Learning From Them When They Happen

Professor, former business school dean, expert on mistake proofing

Episode page with video, transcript, and more

My guest for Episode #186 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is John Grout. He is the former dean of the Campbell School of Business at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

He’s the current Chair of the Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Data Analytics Department and the David C. Garrett Jr. Professor of Business Administration. John has overseen the development, approval and implementation of Berry College’s Creative Technologies program and Berry’s makerspace, HackBerry Lab.

Dr. Grout has researched mistake-proofing extensively and published numerous articles on mistake-proofing. In 2004, John received the Shingo Prize for his paper, “The Human Side of Mistake-Proofing” with Douglas Stewart. John has also consulted with a large variety of firms to mistake-proof their processes. Check out his website,

He’s also published “Mistake-Proofing the Design of Health Care Processes” a book that’s freely available online.

In this episode, John tells his favorite mistake story about using early mistakes to learn and then win a tower-building exercise, defeating a number of “A students” in the process. From John’s story, what does that teach us about learning from mistakes — early and often — in a way that propels toward success? Why is this an entrepreneurship lesson (or a human lesson) and not just an engineering lesson?

We also talk about questions and topics including:

  • Surprisingly, it’s the A students” who think they know how the world works
  • Knowing vs. Experimenting?
  • “It’s all about the scientific method” — Lean Startup
  • PDCA = Plan Do Check Adjust
  • Others didn’t observe and learn from your mistake?
  • Spaghetti building – kindergartners vs. MBA
  • TED talk — the god complex, trial and error
  • Small tests of change = mistake mitigation method
  • Chick-fil-A, ThedaCare, and rapid prototyping
  • ThedaCare stories
  • Adam Savage – Every Tool’s a Hammer book
  • How do you define mistakes? Strict definition vs common definition?


  1. (strict definition) conscious deliberation that leads to selecting the wrong intention.
  2. (common definition) synonym for error. For example, the term mistake-proofing uses the common definition since mistake-proofing is used more to prevent slips than mistakes (using strict definition)
  • Errors – breaks down then into mistakes vs slips
  • Mistake – do what you intended to do
  • Slips — right intent but not executed well
  • How do you define “mistake proofing”?? Or Slip-Proofing
  • How do we decide if mistakes or slips are preventable? “Different vocabularies” for each…
  • Why are checklists the “weakest form of mistake proofing”?
  • Some recent examples you’ve seen of mistake proofing in everyday life?
  • Be careful signs…
  • “How can I make this process fail? Make it fail in a benign way…”
  • The language around “mistake proofing” or “error proofing” vs. — is it a mistake to say things like “fool proofing” or “idiot proofing”??

Support this podcast: