Five Ways to Make the Most From The Mistakes You Make


Face it, we all mistakes.  Heck, I’ve made a bunch today, and it is still early afternoon! 

Here are two common statements made about mistakes.

  • “To err is human . . .”
  • “We must learn from our mistakes.”

While we know we will make mistakes, there is no guarantee we will learn from them.  And if we want to be conscious learners, as leaders and human beings, we  must leverage the rich learning opportunities found in mistakes.  When you regularly apply the steps below, you will not only learn from mistakes but create a proactive approach to future improvement as well.

Recognize it is a mistake.   While we can learn from any experience, recognizing our mistakes gives us a useful humility and provides not only for learning, but improvement – the important result of this type of learning. 

Recognize why it happened.   Spend a few minutes thinking about the situation and the circumstances that lead to the mistake or error.  What were the precursors? What circumstances lead to the mistake?  Consider too what you did to contribute to our cause the error.

Consider your choices and assumptions.   Since we don’t typically go into a situation trying to make a mistake.  It is helpful to consider the situation in retrospect thinking about the assumptions we made that contributed to the mistake and the choices we made based on our assumptions and the situations as we saw it at that time.  This is a more useful and concrete step than simply looking for lessons from the mistake.

Decide what to do differently next time.  This is the answer to the critical learning question, “based on what I know now, what will I do differently next time?”  Answering this question with a clear understanding of both the why and your choices, will give you a more complete, confident and meaningful answer to this question.

Decide how you will anticipate this next time.  The final question is to help you identify clues, warning signs or patterns that might lead to a similar situation in the future.  If you have ever experienced deja vu – but not until it was too late to keep from making a mistake again, you know why this step is important in the learning process.  Ask yourself what clues will remind you or what will help you anticipate a similar problem in the future.

No one likes making mistakes.  This set of steps won’t guarantee you make fewer, but it will, when applied keep you from repeating mistakes and will help you continue to grow your skills and improve your results.  These steps will also help you practice personal accountability – as you can see that they focus you on your choices, your actions and your next steps.

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  1. says

    Timely post Kevin. I even make mistakes while I’m sleeping!

    On Sunday night, I watched ESPN’s special on The Fab 5. Powerful documentary. As the show came to a close, the attention was focused on the fractured relationships that came about from Chris Webber’s failure to be more forthright in an NCAA investigation. Whatever the “real story” is wasn’t really the main point. Everyone interviewed simply wanted to see Webber come forward, admit or at least apologize. In the wake of that simple act, everyone felt like there would be a sense of closure and people could put the situation behind them and move on.

    While everything is not clear behind the scenes, it appears that an acknowledgment of a mistake being made is the one thing that can restore relationship.


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