When You Don’t Learn From Your Mistakes

mistakes

I love good stories.

They help to make the abstract stuff of life concrete. Here is a FANTASTIC story about the importance of learning from your mistakes. It comes from the book “Street Smarts” and was reprinted in Inc magazine. I just finished the book and I would highly recommend it.  The writing flows easily. It is clear, and obviously drawn from lots of experience. I am disappointed that he doesn’t have more books available.

Anyway, the author (Norm Brodsky) says that when there is a mistake in your organization you need to do two things, and both are very important.  First, stop the bleeding.  Second, determine the cause of the problem so it doesn’t happen again. This story is a good example of what happens when you forget to do #2.

‘A few months ago, my wife, Elaine, and I were in Dallas for a conference and we decided to go out to dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant near our hotel. The place was crowded, and we had no reservation, but the maitre d’ said he thought he could seat us in 20 minutes or so. While we waited at the bar, Elaine ordered a shrimp cocktail. Before it was served, the maitre d’ came over to tell us he had a table available in the balcony overlooking the main dining room.

“I just ordered a shrimp cocktail,” Elaine said.”No problem,” said the maitre d’.

“I’ll have someone bring it to your table.”

The shrimp cocktail arrived right after we did. Elaine tasted the sauce and found it too spicy. Intending to dilute it a bit, she reached for a bottle of ketchup on the table. As she turned the cap on the bottle, there was a loud pop, and ketchup came shooting out, covering her sweater, her blouse, her skirt, her whole arm.

Elaine sat there stunned, drowning in ketchup. Our waitress came running over. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, handing us napkins. “Let me help you.” She worked feverishly to clean up the mess. “If you bring me your clothes tomorrow, I’ll have them cleaned for you,” she said.

The manager showed up a moment later and also offered his apologies. He wiped ketchup off a chair and sat down with us. “I’m terribly sorry about this,” he said and gave me his card. “Just send the cleaning bill to me. I’ll make sure it’s taken care of.”

Both Elaine and I were suitably impressed. Every business, including ours, has its share of accidental, unavoidable, nightmarish customer screwups. If we’re the customers involved, we mainly want people to act as though they’re sincerely sorry and to do what they can to repair the damage. We would have been quite satisfied if the manager had left it at that. But as he stood up to leave, he said, “In a way, you were lucky.”

“What do you mean?” Elaine asked.

“The last time this happened, the person got ketchup all over her hair. We had to send her to the beauty parlor. At least you just have it on your clothes.”

“You mean this has happened before?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” the manager said. “It happens fairly often. This part of the restaurant can get extremely hot during the day. We ask the waitresses to loosen the caps of the ketchup bottles, so the pressure doesn’t build up inside, but sometimes they forget, and the bottle explodes when the guest goes to open it.” With that, he excused himself and walked away.

Elaine and I didn’t know whether to be outraged or to burst out laughing. We were dumbfounded. I could think of all kinds of ways to make sure customers don’t have to endure ketchup bombs: Take the ketchup downstairs every evening; buy a small refrigerator for the balcony and keep the bottles there during the day; put the ketchup in vented containers; serve ketchup only when the customer asks for it. Instead the restaurant had come up with a solution that solved nothing. The bottles kept exploding; the ketchup kept flying; the staff kept cleaning up and apologizing; and the victims kept telling everyone they met about their experience, thereby turning what should have been a one-time embarrassment into an ongoing public relations problem. That’s what can happen when you don’t learn from your mistakes.’

Source: Problems, Problems | Street Smarts by Norm Brodsky | Inc.com

Photo used by permission  Topher McCulloch. Some rights reserved

Helping People Learn By Letting Them Fail Is Essential – 6 Recommendations To Fail Well

randy pausch

Here is a great (and brief) article on the importance of failure in developing character, growing businesses, and helping people have a good life.  It turns out that trying to spare people (ourselves, our children, our employees, etc) from experiencing the pain of failure is bad in the long run.  Why? We can’t gain deep wisdom without the process of learning from our failures.  This is a list from the article at Forbes.com of ways to help people fail in a way that is positive for them and the organization.

“Here are some ways to increase employees’ comfort with the risk of failure, and to be resilient when it happens:

  1. Share past stories of struggle. Everyone’s been there.
  2. Practice recovery so people aren’t paralyzed by failure. When I was coaching sports, we didn’t just diagram plays. We always developed a Plan B. That’s why great organizations scenario-plan. It helps people think of struggle as part of the process.
  3. Help people around you think like long-term investors in their own ideas and their own careers. The aim shouldn’t be to try to have one uninterrupted string of successes, but rather to have a portfolio of some winners and, yes, some losers.
  4. If someone is struggling, your job is to figure out how to get them on the right path. The real job of a manager is to help people learn from failure and move forward.
  5. Champion failure that turns to innovation. Find examples where ordinary failure has led to extraordinary opportunity.
  6. Encourage failing fast. Sometimes we recognize that something is failing, and our instinct tells us to push harder to make it succeed. Knowing when to pull the plug is always difficult but is necessary.”

Source: Helping People Learn By Letting Them Fail Is Essential – Forbes

A Week of Preparation For an NFL Quarterback.

 

So what is really involved each week for an NFL quarterback to learn the game plan and prepare for the big game? A LOT MORE than you probably think. And NFL football is much more complicated than the average person can imagine.

Looking at this is not only fascinating, it is instructive on how dedicated these athletes and coaches are to the mental side of their jobs.

Peter King at the MMQB has this write up walking through a week with Carson Palmer, quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. It is a fascinating looking into a very high level of focus, effort, and dedication. And it shows how some new technologies are affecting their preparation. Very cool. I have really enjoyed Peter King’s work in covering the NFL. Last year I felt like his series on NFL Referees was one of the most interesting and informative things I read on sports all year.

Source: Arizona Cardinals’ Carson Palmer goes inside a game plan for MMQB | The MMQB with Peter King

Teaching Is Simply Stocking The Shelves

book shelf

A moment of clarity for me: Teaching is often the slow investment of truth over time to allow for moments of understanding and transformation.

Someone I know recently “saw the light” on an issue, but only after hearing good advice for a couple of years. I was tempted to feel a little hurt.  When they told me about their new perspective,  my absurd pride was a little wounded, as if this person wasn’t giving the proper credit to me.  I felt like saying, “yes of course, I have been telling you that for 2 years.”  But I realized that this is the nature of teaching and learning. It is the way we experience deep learning.

Time, circumstances, and truth are used by the Holy Spirit to help us grow.

As a parent or teacher, don’t get discouraged at the slow process of stocking the shelves. Sometimes we “inform” for the first time. But more commonly we remind, revisit, and explain what is already in the mind so that people can make new connections (2 Peter 1:12-15). Many of the most important realizations we experience are only possible because years of learning.

In teaching, many of the things we impart are like seeds that may lay dormant for years or decades only to sprout later.

The Art Of Leaving Things Undone

Noble Art of Leaving Things Undone

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists of the elimination of nonessentials.”

-Chinese author and philosopher Lin Yutang

Maxwell, John C. (2008-11-16). Today Matters: (p. 67). Center Street. Kindle Edition.

People to Ignore: Critics and Groupies

I haven’t read much of Max Lucado’s writings… OK I haven’t read anything he has written.  But I saw this interview in the Leadership Journal and it has some good stuff.

As a pastor (or leader in general) you have to keep your feet on the ground.  You can get knocked off your feet by what people say. When you are the object of bitter (and false) criticism that hurts. But another unexpected danger comes from praise. At some point every pastor will have someone telling them that they are amazing. That “no one preaches like you do,” that “no one else understands.”  Its true we need both honest feedback and encouragement, but these two voices are not giving us either of those things.

Max Lucado talks about this danger in his interview.   It is easy to think about the danger of critics, and they get a lot of press.  But I appreciate the fact that he is dealing with reality on both sides.

Here is a highlight:

“As a pastor, what are some uniquely loud voices that you’re hearing?

“Every time somebody says, “You’re such a wonderful spiritual leader,” there is a temptation to believe that. Because I’m not. I may have a little more experience than they do, but I’m certainly not as good as they’re saying I am. But there’s a temptation to believe that I am. And there is a temptation to believe I am as bad as some people say I am.

“In every church there are naysayers, there are critics, there are unhappy people. I’ve been at this church since 1988. I’m closing in on 30 years, and I still have people who complain and are grumpy and critical. I have to fight that thought: Am I as bad as some people say I am? Those are the two extremes we in ministry really have to struggle with: feeling self-righteous or defeated. Their voices are completely different, but both of them require leaning into the truth. There has never been a Sunday that I’ve driven home from church having preached that I didn’t battle with insecurity.” (Emphasis mine)

Source: Max Lucado: Dangerous Voices | Leadership Journal

One of the Biggest Lies Of Time Management

morning-time-alarm-bell

“Time management has nothing to do with the clock, but everything to do with organizing and controlling your participation in certain events that coordinate with the clock. Einstein understood time management is an oxymoron. It cannot be managed. You can’t save time, lose time, turn back the hands of time or have more time tomorrow than today. Time is unemotional, uncontrolled, unencumbered. It moves forward regardless of circumstances and, in the game of life, creates a level playing field for everyone.”- Myers Barnes

Quoted in: Maxwell, John C. (2008-11-16). Today Matters: (p. 67). Center Street. Kindle Edition.

An Unexpected Way To Learn From Our Failures

learning from Failure

Common sense tells us that we should learn from our mistakes.  Well, as Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common.”

Some of the best learning available comes from failure.  This learning can be intellectual- like trying and failing to solve a math problem.  Or this learning can be moral- realizing that revenge and bitterness is self destructive, it eats away at your own soul.

In order to really learn from our mistakes we need to be deliberate.  We need to spend time thinking about why we failed.  The kernel of folly is to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. Every time we complete a project, achieve a milestone, or fall on our faces we have a chance to become our own teachers. The opportunity is especially rich when we fail.  A lot can be learned in the post-mortem examination of disappointment. About life. About ourselves.

Nothing shocking about that.

But there is another amazing opportunity that is lurking in our failures. And that is the idea of serendipity.  Serendipity is an accidental discovery. It is a happy accident. It is the pleasant surprise of looking for one thing, and finding something else, often something entirely different yet wonderful.  And many of the most amazing advances in human knowledge and culture have been made “by accident.”  And this is more common than you might think. Penicillin, microwaves, Velcro, Teflon, vulcanized rubber, Coca-Cola, radioactivity, the Post-it note, and Viagra were all the result of “accidental discoveries.”  In reality the list is much longer.

According to Steven Johnson in his book, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” one of the key elements in taking advantage of serendipity is paying attention. Evidently small versions of these accidental discoveries are all around us, but we may miss them if we don’t recognize them.  And we won’t recognize them if we don’t slow down and pay attention.  This involves taking the time to think about what is happening and why.

Here is another reason to be willing to fail and to learn from your failures. You might learn how to do better next time. Or you might discover something else altogether. Something that could change the world forever.