Learning From Mistakes


Hi, everybody, I’m Mike Staver. This is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. This question is pretty straightforward.

“It is widely accepted that people learn from their mistakes. If that is true, then why are people so concerned about making mistakes?”

Wow, right? Wow. Well, first of all, can we just have a moment together, all of us? People don’t often learn from their mistakes. History is full of people and countries that don’t learn from their mistakes.

The good news is that’s job security for me because people keep calling me going, “Hey, I guess I didn’t learn.” In fact, somebody sent me a poster not long ago. It said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try doing what your coach told you to do the first time.” That’s good advertising for me. “It is widely accepted that people say–” I don’t know that it’s widely accepted that people actually learn from their mistakes. I think it’s widely said, “Learn from your mistakes.” My experience is most people do not learn from their mistakes. That’s why people are concerned about making mistakes.

Now, first of all, let me say this. There are two answers to your question to my mind. The first answer is people largely do fear mistakes because we’ve been taught to think about this. Since you were a kid, you got punished for mistakes. You got punished. What I mean by mistakes, you make a mistake on a test, you get a bad grade, you don’t do this, you don’t do that. You leave your bike in the driveway and the car gets to run over it. We’ve largely been punished for our mistakes. If the punishment isn’t physical, then it’s emotional, or mental, or financial, or psychological.

We’ve largely been conditioned out of the mistake-making world. Do I think people should go out there and intentionally make mistakes? I actually do think that. I share with my clients that you should create a culture where mistakes are encouraged. Here’s the metaphor I use. I say, “Running our lives and running our business is like a road.” You build a road and here’s the road I want to be on. Here’s the performance, my values, that kind of thing.

Then, we dig ditches along the side. The ditches are the places where we don’t want to go. It’s if somebody gets hurt or something happens, it’s bad, or we take advantage of somebody, or that kind of thing, those are the ditches. On the road, we should be allowed to make mistakes. I’m not disagreeing with the premise of your question. I’m just disagreeing with the premise of your question. I don’t think it is largely accepted that people learn from their mistakes? Do you guys think that? I think we say it, right?

Johnny: Yes. D is there for sure. I think people shy away from it because that requires growth and growth requires pain and introspectiveness. Who wants to do that?

Marty: Yes, exactly. Nobody likes to make a mistake. Like you were saying, we’ve been conditioned. It doesn’t feel good. That’s not a good feeling.

Johnny: I don’t know the feeling because I don’t make mistakes.

Mike: That’s it. That’s good. I mean that’s good. It’s hard to be him.

Marty: I think it really is a choice. When you make a mistake, you either–

Mike: Learn from it or you don’t.

Marty: Yes, exactly. I think the mistake opens the door, but you have to walk through it.

Mike: Right.

Johnny: That has to be an active choice. You have to actively decide, “Okay. How can I not repeat this mistake?”

Marty: Yes, I think just being mindful about it.

Mike: This brings up the closing comment I want to make to all of you. That is, it is better to admit your mistakes than it is to learn from your mistakes. Here’s what I mean by that. It’s a sign of character when a person can say, “I screwed up. I own it. I did it,” but I think the reason we’re afraid to make mistakes is what me and the guys just said, is that it’s painful, it’s uncomfortable, nobody really likes it.

I will tell you, the greatest learning I’ve ever had in my life is from the most monstrous mistakes I have ever made. Hope that’s helpful.

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