By Dr. Peter Honey
Mistakes are inevitable and have the potential to be admirable learning opportunities. A mistake is likely to 'bounce' someone into learning mode in a bid to avoid repeating the same mistake in future. However, learning is by no means inevitable.
In the wake of a mistake people can react by:
- denying it happened
- concealing/covering up the mistake
- rationalizing/explaining the mistake away
- blaming factors outside their control
- attacking other people for their mistakes
- confessing/coming clean
Alas, the first five are far more prevalent than the last three.
The way to maximize learning and development from mistakes is to lean over backwards to be non-accusational.
The easiest way to do this is to concentrate on the only two things that really matter:
- agreeing what action to take to alleviate the effects of the mistake
- agreeing what action to take to prevent the mistake happening again.
The problem-solving, action-oriented approach is much too businesslike to indulge in unhelpful trivialities such as apportioning blame and finger pointing. Rebuking people when they make mistakes doesn't necessarily mean they will make fewer mistakes in future.
More probably it will encourage them to conceal their mistakes in order to avoid being rebuked. As every school child quickly learns, you don't get told off for making mistakes; only for being found out.
So, if mistakes, when they occur, are handled properly, development is the desirable outcome. This doesn't mean that mistakes are to be welcomed, or that efforts to prevent mistakes can be relaxed; merely that when they happen we might as well gain from them.
It is possible, indeed desirable, to learn from other people's mistakes rather than restricting it to the ones that happen in your sphere of influence. Analyzing accident reports or newspaper or magazine articles’ about other organizations, products or personalities can often be a useful exercise.
Important and relevant lessons can be extracted from case-study material of this kind without the pain of having made the mistake yourself. A good start to be would be the paperback published by Butterworth Heinemann called 'My Biggest Mistake' where captains of industry admit to a substantial mistake and describe the lessons they have learned from it.
Once people have got into the spirit of things, you can move the whole process closer to home by having your own equivalent.
Whether it is your mistake, our colleagues’ mistake or someone else's mistake, always remember 'inside every mistake are lessons waiting to get out'.
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* This article is taken from Peter Honey's best selling paperback now in its fourth reprint, 101 Ways To Develop Your People, Without Really Trying!
David Anderson - President - Okanagan Training Solutions
Priority Management - A Better Way to Work
250 762-5096 / 1-877-762-5096
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