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Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong [Hardcover]

Alina Tugend
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 22 2011
A New York Times columnist delivers an eye-opening big idea: Embracing mistakes can make us smarter, healthier, and happier in every facet of our lives.

In this persuasive book, journalist Alina Tugend examines the delicate tension between what we're told-we must make mistakes in order to learn-and the reality-we often get punished for making mistakes, and therefore try to avoid them or cover them up. In Better by Mistake, Tugend shows that mistakes are everywhere, and suggests that when we acknowledge and identify them correctly, we can improve not only ourselves, but our families, our work, and the world around us.

Through fascinating research, Tugend reveals how trying to avoid mistakes can affect us from the earliest stages in our lives and shape us into adults who steer clear of risks and challenges. She takes us behind the scenes into cutting-edge behavioral studies; invites us into the high-stakes world of health care and aviation, where mistakes can cost lives, and delves into the art and science behind learning how to craft a sincere apology and accepting responsibility for mistakes.

Bold and dynamic, insightful and provocative, Better by Mistake turns our cultural wisdom on its head to illustrate the downside of striving for perfection, and the rewards of acknowledging mistakes and embracing the imperfection in all of us.

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"Better By Mistake is a fascinating and wide-ranging exploration of the deeply human phenomenon of screwing up. With Alina Tugend as your wise (and wise-cracking) guide, you'll learn why perfection is a myth, why apologies pack power, and why effort is often more important than results. And once you've finished this book, you'll never look at mistakes -- or yourself -- the same way."
-Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind

"Oh what a jewel of a book this is! Read it, smile, learn, be surprised, then rejoice in your newly found power of imperfection. Glory in your foibles, rejoice in your mistakes, knowing that if you will but embrace what you may have wanted to deny or avoid, not only will you become more true, you will also grow both in strength and in joy."
-Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of CrazyBusy and Driven to Distraction

"The research presented in Better by Mistake is refreshingly clear and often surprising. Read it and find out why Japanese teachers allow students to spend twelve minutes or more explaining their wrong answer to a math problem, why posting grades for all to see is an example of a healthy understanding of the cyclical nature of time and why praise lowers ambition. This book is fascinating, practical and fun."
-Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee

"Alina Tugend is a terrific reporter, one who knows how to guide her readers through complex issues that matter."
-Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code

About the Author

Alina Tugend has been a journalist for more than 25 years. She earned a bachelor's degree at U.C. Berkeley and a Masters of Studies of Law at Yale Law School. She has written about education, environmentalism, and consumer culture for numerous publications including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, the Atlantic, American Journalism Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Child, and Parents among others. Since 2005, she has written the bi-weekly consumer column “Shortcuts” for the New York Times business section. She lives in Larchmont, NY, with her husband, their two sons and two cats.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't get into this book Oct. 12 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have a rule that if a book doesn't own me by 30 pages, it's off to the used bookstore. I stuck with it for 30, 60, 90... 120 pages, still nothing.

There are netter books on Lessons Learned etc...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
62 of 73 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dissappointing and Frankly Not Very Helpful March 27 2011
By Book Fanatic - Published on
I'm the fourth reviewer here and I see the first three all rated this book 5 stars. So let me be the first to offer an alternative opinion. This book had the potential to be really good and I bought it and began reading it with eagerness and high expectations. The subtitle of the book is "The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong". That is a fascinating and important topic that I don't think gets enough airplay. Unfortunately this book doesn't do much to change that situation. It's not what the book was really about and the parts of it that are would have been better covered in a magazine article instead of 250 pages of prose.

For example chapters 4 and 5 were on medical mistakes and aviation mistakes respectively. While the information in them about how those industries deal with mistakes might be interesting, how are either of those relevant to "The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong"? By her own account the aviation industry is incredibly safe and so a whole chapter on how it became safer seems irrelevant to the topic of her book. Is the airline industry "Better by Mistake"?

Chapter 6 is on the topic of gender differences. This chapter was confusing to me. First of all much of it is irrelevant to the topic of her book and just seems to be a way to slip into publication her view that gender differences are exaggerated. She goes on and on about the difference in the way men and women react to mistakes while seeming to want to minimize gender differences. I finished the chapter thinking huh?

Chapter 7 is on cultural differences. It's actually interesting but once again it is tangential to the alleged topic of the book. Both on cultural and gender differences she repeatedly plays politically correct by claiming no way is more right than another, but then I have ask what was the point all the discussion? Pointing out all the different ways people respond to mistakes and saying they all have advantages and disadvantages ends up just being banal.

Chapter 8 is on apologies. Once again there is some interesting analysis here and it wasn't boring to read. But if one assumes that the mistake requires an apology, how are we "better" by having made it? Who wins? We may be better for having made an apology but the logic that says we are better for having made a mistake that needs an apology just seems wrong to me.

This was not a bad book, but I believe the title is seriously misleading and caused me to buy a book that quite frankly is not what I was looking for. It's not practical and just raises more questions than it answers. You would think I would have given it one star as a result. Like I said, it is not a bad book and if what I describe here is what you are looking for then by all means go for it. If you are looking for practical advice on how to let yourself or others become "Better by Mistake", then I think you should skip it.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars learning from mistakes April 27 2011
By science writer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was amazed to discover that even at age 85, "Better by Mistake" presented insights and advice I had never considered before
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Put this book on your "must read" list Aug. 24 2011
By rlweaverii - Published on
Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

This is an excellent book. Not only is it well-written and well-researched, but the narration flows smoothly, and the research is incorporated easily and unobtrusively.

In seventeen pages in half the font size of the text, she includes a wonderful and quite extensive set of notes. Her bibliography, in the same reduced font size, extends for eleven pages.

Tugend truly knows what she is talking about, and not only does she offer examples with which all readers can identify, whether it is in raising children, in the workplace, medicine, aviation, genders, cultures, or individually, her insights and conclusions are on the mark.

I have used the research (the five dimensions) that Geert Hofstede, the Dutch psychologist, "has done over the years to identify and explain variations among societies" (p. 203), in my textbook, Communicating Effectively, 10th ed. (McGraw-Hill, 2012) for many years, and I was pleased to see Tugend's endorsement of them. She said, "Nonetheless [despite his dimensions being "critiqued for failing to take into account minority societies within a dominant culture" (p. 205)], his work has proved very useful, and has withstood the test of time, in helping understand important cultural differences" (p. 205).

His examples of Hofstede's dimensions are clear and helpful, and I plan to use one of them (with permission, of course), as a "Consider This" box or as an "Active Open-Mindedness," or "Another Point of View" supplementary box. That is how good her material is.

I also appreciated Tugend's continual reminders about how we (her readers) can successfully deal with mistakes, or how they can be dealt with in the various areas she writes about. In her "Conclusion," she summarizes her advice by saying, "We all make our share of those [a faux pas or blunder], and that's okay also. But if we can all forgive ours and others' errors more often, if we can acknowledge that perfection is a myth and that human beings screw up on a regular basis--and we can either simply feel bad about it and find someone to accuse or learn from it--then swe are on the right track. Make no mistake about it" (p. 252).

This book is a "must read" for everyone. There are "unexpected benefits of being wrong" that all people need to read.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better off how? April 24 2011
By Ilya Grigorik - Published on
As another reviewer has already pointed out: a slightly misleading title. The author explores areas such as cultural differences in treating mistakes, gender differences, role of apologies, and so on, but how are we "better by mistake"? Overall, this offers an interesting introduction to the subject area, but it does not offer any new significant insights - many of the examples have been well studied and documented by other writers already. "Inviting Disaster" by James Chiles, "Logic of Failure" by Dietrich Dorner are both good examples. Overall, if you haven't previously explored this field at all (organization failure, disaster, 'normal accidents', etc), then this is a good high-level introduction.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better by Mistake March 29 2011
By RNA - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed Alina Tugend's book. I think the underlying philosophy that we embrace and learn from our mistakes is imperative. It was an eye-opener for me, that other cultures actually see the "benefits" of mistakes. I think if academicians can teach the concepts in Ms. Tugend's book to our future leaders, our country will be a better place. As a mother, I especially enjoyed the chapter on children. I am attempting to utilize her ideas in my everyday life. Now when I mistake, I try to examine the cause rather than getting so angry. I highly recommend this book as both an enjoyable read and a thought provoking book
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