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

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.