What happens when they make a mistake?

Photo by Plindberg


Bob Sutton writes:

Failure will never be eliminated, and so the best we can hope for from human beings and organizations is that they learn from their mistakes, that rather than making the same mistakes over and over again, they make new and different mistakes.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about reflection and how to introduce it into the everyday life of an organization. There are many studies that show a clear relationship between people’s personal reflection time, creativity and leadership. People who devote special time to reflect and to extract meaning out of their experience and surroundings are able to break into new realms of ideas, values and productivity.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of such a reflection period in a team setting:

Just like every person needs to incorporate weekly thinking-time into his schedule, so does a team need to set maintenance time to work on its effectiveness (and not on the results). Time to talk about how the team is doing. Time to get to know each other. Time to reflect about the team’s purpose and every individual’s role in it.

And this process is all about learning from mistakes. Sometimes we are so entrenched in our everyday lives that we forget that we need to be active in order to learn. Sutton points out the attitude towards mistakes and failure and says that managers should embrace them and not condone them. That is one aspect of the issue. I think the other aspect is the actual active learning.

How many times did you say in a meeting that something is not going to work and it ended up working? I am sure that many times. That is both great and OK. Great, because your team took risks in the face of uncertainty and OK, because everybody makes mistakes about the future. The more important questions is how many times did you sit afterwards and asked yourself – “last week I said this would not work, but it did. What can I learn about my beliefs, assumptions or thinking process? What is the lesson from my mistake?”. I guess the answer to this one is not many times.

Now, I am not sure you will always find answers. But as I read in Developing Management Skills: “Being intelligent is interpreted as already knowing the answers, instead of asking good questions”.

Can you think of ways to incorporate reflection into individuals and teams work schedule?



2 Responses to “What happens when they make a mistake?”

  1. Lakia Says:

    I would say that I actually learn from my mistakes and from the mistakes of others. At the end of the day, it’s not about how many you’ve made (unless you keep making the same ones over and over again lol) but how you learn from them.

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Lakia,
    Happy to see you reading my blog and even happier to read your comments.
    If you are able to learn from your mistakes that is great. I don’t think people NEVER learn from their mistakes. We would be living in a horrible world if they didn’t and even some animals do learn from their mistakes.
    I do think however that people talk about it and assume they learn from their mistakes much more than they actually do.
    All I am proposing is to think about the process of learning in order to create more and deeper learning. The important question, in my eyes, in the process. The outcomes will come after that… How can me make sure that we engage in actual, as opposed to declared, learning?
    Thanks again for the comment, it made me realize that my post was not that clear…
    Would love to hear more of your thoughts about this issue and about other issues in the future!

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