Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Make Mistakes. That's right. I said make mistakes.

"Make complete and utter peace with your past."  -- Bob Weinstein, Lt. Colonel, U.S. Army, Ret.

We all have made mistakes in our lives. Some of us are carrying them in our hearts today. Then there are those who make it their job to bad mouth, complain and whine about others. Such people are the ones who make it their mission to make sure that you and others don't forget what you have done. Such negative people are, as a rule, oblivious of their own negativity. For them it is a sport to find something about someone to complain about and point out and emphasize their mistakes. Avoid their negativity at all cost so that you can successfully make complete and utter peace with your past.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  Those are the words of Albert Einstein. You are invited to make mistakes in the pursuit of overcoming that obstacle in life or at work. Your boss gives you a new project or task or you have a very different challenge in your personal life that you have never dealt with before. Most of us move through life with the goal of committing as few mistakes as possible. One thing is for sure.  If that task is new or especially challenging, the odds of you making mistakes have just increased. 

What do you call goals that are within your known capabilities and experience? Such goals are called be-good goals. Most of us like be-good goals. We know that we will not have to deal with an increased chance of making mistakes. The problem with be-good goals is that they can be counterproductive as soon as an unforeseen challenge occurs.

What is the focus when pursuing be-good goals? You already know what to do because the goal falls within your know abilities and experience. No need to be concerned about making mistakes here.

Let us change the focus. This time you are handed a goal that is not within the realm of your known abilities and experience. What happens now? Well, your blood pressure might go up. A good deodorant might be what is needed and you might now have sweaty palms. What is really happening? Yes.  Anxiety comes into play and a need for the restroom. No. You are not sick.  Not really.

Let me translate these reactions:  “I can’t just be good. I am going to make mistakes. Someone who is focused on be-good goals cannot improve to the extent of someone who has been tasked with a get-better goal. Get-better goals focus on developing your ability. That means someone who is pursuing a get-better goal has the mindset of desiring to learn something new. As a result, the get-better goal getter is not plagued by anxiety like the be-good goal getter
Which of the two makes more mistakes, the be-good goal getter or the get-better goal getter? Someone with the mindset of a be-good goal getter is the one with the propensity to make more mistakes. The be-good goal person is too preoccupied with only applying knowledge and experience which already exist. 

There are many studies reported in Psychology Today and Scientific American that confirm the importance of making mistakes in the learning process, also known as active learning. Further studies have concluded that the person who is allowed to make mistakes, makes fewer mistakes. What a paradox. That means if the workplace environment is of such that no mistakes are allowed, more mistakes will be made and perhaps covered up since they are not allowed.

This brings me to another issue and that is admitting that a mistake has been made. Who do you think is probably more willing to admit to a mistake, a be-good or get-better goal person? The get-better goal person will more readily admit a mistake since mistakes are allowed and an understanding exists that everyone makes mistakes and mistakes are a part of the learning process and a part of getting better.

The person with the mindset of a get-better goal is better performing and makes fewer mistakes and is not afraid to admit to making a mistake. Whether the workplace, academic setting or at home, a get-better mindset which allows mistakes is the better mindset for improving and developing.

Your take away:

1.       Get-better goals need more time when dealing with more challenging or unfamiliar projects.
2.       Ask for help when needed.
3.       Compare your performance only with your performance yesterday. That is how progress is made.