Do You Really Learn From Mistakes? Seriously?

I have a healthy respect for the value of mistakes. You might have seen my recent post on 5 truths about mistakes, or perhaps the business mistakes category on this blog. I’ve certainly made my share. (Wow … I see that category has 100 posts. This one, fittingly, is the 100th).

With that as background, I’m happy to report that John Caddell tells me he’s repositioned his site The Mistake Bank on a blog platform, so we can all see it again. It was set up for a while on a Ning platform. He had taken it down.

For a quick sample of that, try
Are positive recognition & confronting mistakes in conflict? John starts by quoting Edward Hallowell’s new book, “Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People:

The need to learn from mistakes is one of our most time-honored principles, drummed into us from early in our lives, through our educational years, and into our careers. But new research is showing otherwise, as does most people’s daily experience. Think about it. Do you usually learn from your mistakes? Or do you just feel embarrassed or upset and try to forget or cover up what happened?

John, however, believes in acknowledging mistakes and learning from them. That’s the reason the Mistake Bank exists. He says:

But his underlying premise is wrong, in my view. Confronting and learning from mistakes is not the opposite of positive recognition. And they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a highly positive culture is required to give employees safety to reveal and correct mistakes quickly, rather than hide them.

Hallowell, quoted by John, moves from acknowledging mistakes to public humiliation, as if you can’t do one without the other. He says:

Do performance reviews that detail your shortcomings really help you? Or do they bring you down? Does being criticized in public improve your performance, or not?

I say that logic is flawed. Sure, you run into some bad bosses who berate people in front of others, and occasionally you’ll find somebody who seriously believes that’s a good management technique. But I don’t. And I’ll bet you don’t either. But I don’t think many people would agree that acknowledging mistakes happens only with public criticism. Would you?

And John cites a study of nurses and safety that found …

nurses in “safe” cultures committed more mistakes than nurses in less safe environments, until she discovered that psychological safety allowed the nurses to be more candid in revealing and discussing mistakes rather than hiding them.

What do you think? I’m pretty sure I’m voting with John on this one. And I’m also glad, as I said above, to see the Mistake Bank is up and running again.

ps: John told me in email that my value of mistakes post “unwittingly encouraged” him to put the Mistake Bank back up. I’m glad. I’m also afraid most of my best work is unwitting.

5 thoughts on “Do You Really Learn From Mistakes? Seriously?

  1. It requires a lot of effort and self denial for western civilization managers to cultivate a mistake-friendly culture within their company. That is apparent by the amount and quality of bibliography on that issue.

    Most of the authors face this issue like the media faced the internet back in the 90’s. In the end i believe it’s up to the temper, manners and philosophy of each manager in the chain up to the top. Internal procedures and regulations will only help comedians and writers

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