Some people learn from mistakes; others don’t. That said, some mistakes could be avoided in the first place if people learned from the mistakes of others. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
Lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned.
Do You Learn from Others?
If you don’t learn from the first time you do something incorrectly, you’ll continue to do it the same way in the future. But that mentality can be improved. Why learn solely from your mistakes when you can learn from the mistakes of others? In fact, according to a recent study by two researchers at Bristol University in England, we learn from our mistakes, but it turns out that we could learn more from others’ mistakes.*
Learning from others requires a different approach than focusing inward. As a case in point, even though you may be comfortable admitting mistakes, and learning from them, others may not be. While most people enjoy touting their success, admitting their shortcomings doesn’t come easy.
How to Turn Other People’s Mistakes into a Valuable Lesson
As you scrutinize any failing, and determine how to prevent it in the future, use these 25 factors as guideposts. (Many apply to business as well as to personal situations.) Many missteps occur due to:
- insufficient preparation
- avoidance or denial
- poor planning
- weak information
- bad assumptions
- poor diagnosis of the problem
- lack of focus
- no sense of urgency
- incorrect strategy
- conflicting goals
- inadequate resources
- careless behavior
- poor execution
- short-term mentality
- lack of knowledge or experience
- poor attitude
- politics or infighting
- ego or greed
- improper incentive
- bureaucracy and red tape
- poor leadership
- late response
- misjudgment of the undertaking
- quitting before completion
- weak moral character
13 Ways to Harness Valuable Lessons
Once you identify why a mistake occurred, how do you ensure that it won’t happen again? Here are 13 tips to help you benefit from your mistakes and the mistakes of others:
Learn from others. There are tons of books and podcasts that discuss how and why failures occur. Learn valuable lessons from them.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Before you begin any undertaking, consider whether it’s been done before — and apply lessons learned.
Celebrate learning. Don’t blame — learn. Treat every experience as a learning opportunity in which mistakes are tolerated, feedback is welcomed, and failures are viewed as hurdles rather than roadblocks.
Learn and move on. Don’t beat yourself up for making a mistake. Everyone’s human — we prove that every day.
Live and learn. Ask yourself whether a mistake is being repeated. Making a mistake is acceptable. Just don’t let it return for an encore.
Make people comfortable. When analyzing problems, focus on the act, not the individual.
Dig beneath the surface. Several factors often contribute to a failing. Therefore, don’t be impatient and shut down discussion after the first cause is identified.
Turn talk into action. As the popular saying goes, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”
Avoid being narrow-minded. Many times, a lesson in one area can be applied to another. For example, a lesson in sports can be applied to business.
Optimize the learning experience. Strike a balance between the point at which you review a situation versus waiting so long that you forget the details.
Keep lessons learned top-of-mind. Keep a journal. While you may remember lessons learned week to week, many will be forgotten over time.
If you’re part of an organization, it’s not enough to learn a lesson — it’s critical to share that lesson with your colleagues. Here are two ideas for your consideration:
Create a knowledge database. When people leave an organization, either through retirement or attrition, they take valuable experience with them. Therefore, create a process to capture institutional knowledge that others can access in the future. (For example, what are 10 things you’ve learned that should never be forgotten? What are 10 things only you know that others should know as well?)
Share knowledge, worldwide. Create a system to collect important lessons and provide easy access to them. For example, ensure that a lesson learned in New Zealand is captured and shared with a colleague in Belgium, in real time.
Do You Learn from the Mistakes of Other People?
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