Mistake or Lesson?
With the arrival of another fall, let me bring back (only briefly!) a less-treasured school memory – the dreaded quiz L Do you recall the red pen or pencil “x” that marked your wrong answer on a test? Even if technology changes see students’ work graded in a more “up to date” fashion since the one-room school house, I have trouble imagining that the old “marm” mindset doesn’t still lurk in the vestiges of today’s school system (this bold statement, even though my family heritage is one of many dedicated educators).
As a recent article in a freebie community digest asserts, children thus absorb an early subtle yet dangerous message: mistakes are bad and to be shunned. Tests, with their emphasis on getting 100% scores, skew the learning process. Author Jim Campbell goes on to suggest we should feel sorry for those who attain perfection, as they don’t gain skills needed to deal with “mistakes”. If indeed there is such a thing…
Returning to Business “School”
Do you begin to see why I entitled this article, My “Mistake”? To start, let’s take a page from Thomas Edison’s book. After he’d tried 1,000 possible filaments, Edison was asked if he felt frustrated by so many “failures”. Undaunted, he replied that he now knew 1,000 things that didn’t work. For the record, it took 3,000 tries before his light bulb succeeded.
Too bad so few people have such a positive attitude. It’s especially ironic, given how humans the world over learn to walk – by falling down a lot through trial and error. Did you know that even strategic missiles need to travel off-course before self-correcting to pinpoint the right target?
So, how is it that children who joyfully learn to walk by falling down turn into adults with so much difficulty accepting their blunders? Unwittingly thanks to parents, playmates and teachers, we regrettably learn to be cautious and avoid looking foolish. If anything, we learn to laugh at those who make mistakes.
Can you further see where this article is going as it regards business “school”? While it’s tough in our competitive North American culture to not get embarrassed over goof-ups, isn’t that perspective also contrary to out-of-the-box thinking? Aren’t we virtually ordered to innovate all the while being evaluated by appraisals that reward “walk on water” performance? Is it just me, or do you locate a parallel with testing that punishes “wrong” answers and favours perfect pupils? Talk about conflicting imperatives!
The Top Ten List
Now, because my purpose is not to sidetrack into commentary on performance management systems, how about we simply take a cue from Mr. Edison in practicing his level of optimism in the face of experimentation? Whether we’re striving for personal growth or professional standing, his patient attitude is to be admired. Without it, we might all be sitting in the dark!
To invite you to look upon the invention of your “light bulb” as a 10,000 step process (where the previous 9,999 tries were never failures), I offer this month’s statements to expand your thinking:
- Accept that as long as we’re alive, “mistakes” are bound to happen.
- If you’re not making a few mistakes, you’ve probably stopped growing.
- Set aside time-honoured excuses for not stretching yourself.
- Stop trying to maintain a “goof-proof” image.
- Adopt a new way of moving forward by looking upon life as an opportunity to constantly learn from what doesn’t work.
- Keep in mind tomorrow is another day, even if today’s bloopers were dismaying.
- Remember that mental, emotional and spiritual development can’t be realized without “messing up” along the way.
- Return to childlike wonder and awe in the face of learning.
- Tell yourself, “Who cares if I look ‘stupid’ while learning new things”?
- Recognize that all human progress/transformation is founded upon openness to trial and error discovery.
In addition to Thomas’ famous commitment to never let himself get discouraged under any circumstances, permit me to supplement Edison’s example with a few representative quotes from another inspiring learner – Albert Einstein:
“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”
“The important thing is to not stop questioning.”
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”