Do you learn from your mistakes?

We never set out intentionally to make a mistake but it does happen and, in many ways, there is no better way to succeed in business than to learn from errors. Wise people admit their mistakes readily for they know that progress accelerates when they do. They also know how to learn from the mistakes of others in the same way as they learn from their own.

It is never easy to admit you’ve made an error and sometimes they can have far reaching repercussions. However, they are all part of our learning, growing and improving and are an essential part of our journey through life.

I remember saying this to my children when they were growing up. ‘Just admit you have made a mistake and then we can all move on’. And then of course, they would say ‘but if I admit I did something wrong, then you will tell me off! – so that is where the learning and teaching takes place. Not an easy one for a child but nevertheless a very important lesson for all children to learn.

We are all fallable
So let us take the premise that we don’t actually mean to make mistakes, but we do so because we are human and therefore fallible. The result is that we may become embarrassed when our expertise or judgement is seen to be faulty, and we feel uncomfortable. However, in order to limit any damage to our name or professionalism, it is always best to admit it immediately.

A typical scenario is that a mistake is made and the person responsible tries to distance themselves from it and may endeavour to blame others instead of accepting responsibility and the consequences that flow from it.

There are various types of mistakes but let us just look at just three:

Silly mistakes: spilling the cup of coffee on your desk because it was placed too near to where you are sitting.
Simple: not saving your work on your computer screen as you go along and then losing all the valuable copy, when it inevitably crashes.
Complex: Noticing that the front tyre on your car is worn but you fail to replace it and then you suddenly have a blow-out when driving at high speed on the motorway; crash into the car in front causing a multiple pile-up in which a number of people are seriously injured.

If you look at all of these examples, something could have been done in each case.

The silly mistake: We could easily have done something about moving the cup of coffee on our desk.

The simple mistake: Pure habit should ensure that you never start working on a document without giving it a title and saving it every few minutes.

The complex mistake: A series of mistakes happened here. Firstly the worn tyre was ignored. Secondly, the driver was driving too fast and finally, their loss of control was compounded by the fact that they had no knowledge of how to act in this emergency. All due to a single mistake being make in the first instance.

All of this bring me to my final point, which is ‘bouncing back‘. I suppose the secret to this is to use any mistake as a motivational and learning tool. Experiencing a setback after making a mistake is inevitable. [Ask any writer who has written 3 chapters of their book and lost them just because they weren’t saved]. However, there should always be some learning that comes from any error, although this will only become apparent, subsequently. However, if you just go into ‘victim mode’ and accept that bad things happen to you, there will be no learning coming from the mistake.

The primary point is to analyse exactly what went wrong and why. You will need to learn for the future to ensure that a particular error will never be made by you again. If there are bad habits to be broken, then this is a good time to do it.

It is part of being human to make mistakes, as long as you don’t repeat them. Always remember that many successful people, like Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, all made many mistakes- and learned from them. Only usually you don’t know that!

  • Key Points
    Mistakes are inevitable in life
    We must analyse and learn from them
    A repeated error is unacceptable

Written by Carole Spiers and reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News.


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