The one powerful step to rewire your way to success: Learning from your mistakes

Did you know that more people die from errors committed by doctors and hospitals than the number of casualties caused by accidents? Yes, surprisingly this is how dearly it may cost when we do not learn from our mistakes. On the contrary if you consider the safety record of the Aviation industry, you will find that is it remarkably good because of the standard in the aviation industry to learn from mistakes rather than to conceal them

This ability of the Aviation industry is what has been referred to as Black box thinking – identifying the root cause of the failure and the meticulous and careful analysis of the errors that led to it, in order to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. The result? A smaller and smaller margin of error with each failure.

Unfortunately, as a society we have an unhealthy attitude to failure – while we are quick to blame others for our failure, we often fail to see our own faults and shortcomings. We are so fearful of public humiliation and criticism that when we are faced with the proof of our failure, we are more likely to

This happens in part because of our tendency to blame others for their faults while we cover up our own. We even accurately predict people’s responses when we are at fault, knowing full well how easily they will be put us in the dock and release unforgiving judgements without empathising with us for our tough situation that caused us to err. The end resultis usually the same. This tendency reduces an open approach to embracing errors and analysing them and pushes people to cover up their trails in an effort to escape public censure. This is unfortunate in a scenario where failure can actually be the bedrock of success.

The truth is that success in both professional and personal life can only be derived from an approach very contrary to this tendency.

It is only by redefining failure and accepting its causes and removing them from our next endeavours can we open the potential for growth, creativity and resilience. The single greatest obstacle to progress is the failure to learn from mistakes; let us examine why and how that happens –

Any endeavour holds the potential to turn into either of the two – a closed loop or an open look. A closed loop is one where an endeavour ending in failure becomes a futile exercise because the failure is not analysed and the errors and weaknesses are not overcome because they are not acknowledged and hence not analysed. On the other hand, an open loop is one where the endeavour it self may fail but it is never a wasted effort because the acknowledgement of the failure and its causes leads to improvement in the approach and the method the next time that we attempt to succeed in the same direction.

The hard truth is that when we resist acknowledging our errors, we tend to remain blissfully unaware of our shortcomings and our performance hits a plateau and stalls our success.

There is much to learn from the Aviation technology in this regard. The simple but powerful resolution to this is the approach summed in the acronym P.A.C.E – or Probe, Alert, Challenge and Emergency – an approach that creates systems and cultures enabling the organization to learn from errors rather than to feel threatened by them.

This practice helps to harness the benefits of learning from failure and also reducing its cost. This is akin to failing in practice while preparing for the big day rather than failing on the big day itself.  The more open we are to failing in practice the more likely would we be to fail at the critical juncture and this increases our chances to succeed where it is critical to our progress.

In fact, so common is this tendency to avoid failure that in case we are faced with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are likely to change our beliefs. In fact, we go so far in our attempt to avoid having to deal with the facts of our failure that we ignore the evidence completely and even fabricate new evidence, new justifications or even new explanations to be able to deal with the situation.

This is known as Cognitive dissonance – A situation where mistakes make us too uncomfortable to admit so we ignore them or reframe them. This is a kind of internal failure – the inability of the person to admit mistakes even to themselves.

This is a problematic ballistic model of success. This idea of success is based on the belief that once a specific target has been set then the way to go ahead and successfully achieve the goal is to come up with a really astute strategy and to hit the bullseye.

On the other hand, experts recommend a totally different approach referred to as the guided missile approach. According to this approach – success is not merely dependent on a before the event reasoning, it is also determined by the after the trigger adaptation.

We must rely on our own assessment of our performance even if that is less than flattering, as in the absence of expert data personal narrative often is the best chronicle we have of the events.

Hence to fulfil our potential as individuals and organizations, it is a must that we redefine failure and take it as a stepping stone into consistent improvement.

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