There are a number of old adages that relate to learning from our mistakes.
Don’t make the same mistake twice
Fool me once: your fault, fool me twice: my fault
James Dyson said:
Enjoy your failures because you never learn from your success
So why is it so hard to learn from our mistakes and why do we see so many people making the same mistake twice? Because there are two types of mistake we can make.
One is the experiential mistake: this is when you watch someone put their hand in the fire only to get burnt, but you’re not quite sure you believe it so you put your hand in the same fire just to check it is really true; and of course you get burnt as well. Your response might be philosophical: “so it really is true that you get burnt” or it might be more self critical “I’m an idiot, why didn’t I trust the evidence of my own eyes”.
The second type of mistake we make is when we are unwilling to let our experiences challenge our beliefs about the world and the values that we hold to be true.
This is amazingly common in the business world with very high profile examples of individual businesses and whole industries that were not open to be challenged in their thinking.
The newspaper industry has seen its revenues decimated because it was not able or willing to take on the opportunity of the internet at an early enough stage so allowing competitors to get a huge advantage, which has now made the internet the biggest threat to its ultimate existence.
The car manufacturer Rover could not find a way of learning from the threat posed by BMW, Mercedes and Audi at the executive end of the market and Toyota, Honda, Ford and Vauxhall at the mass end of the market and they collapsed in confusion.
The same principles hold true for small business owners. The high streets are littered with empty shops as a result of landlords, councils and shop owners being unable to learn from the experiences of others and unable to develop solutions until five years of recession had created decimation in some high streets.
Henry Ford summed this up brilliantly when he said
“Businessmen go down with their businesses because they like the old way so well they cannot change.”
So how can you learn from your mistakes and allow your beliefs and values to be challenged?
The answer is: Gratitude.
Now I know that for a lot of hard headed business people the concept of gratitude does not sit comfortably when compared to evidence afforded by a P&L or balance sheet. But they can only indicate that there is something that needs to be learned not what the lesson should be.
Gratitude allows you to accept things into your life. Gratitude in this sense is not saying thank you to the person who brings you a cup of coffee or holds the door open as you walk through. That is certainly good manners and you may be grateful that they have shown you such consideration; but true gratitude is when you can say thank you to the customer who is complaining, or the employee who is moaning, or the supplier who is making excuses.
It is in these moments of gratitude that you can look beyond the circumstance and get to the lesson that sits behind it. It is a state of gratitude that allows you to ask “why” and move beyond your natural reaction to defend your position; your beliefs and values.
So if you really want to learn from your mistakes, be grateful for them and in that moment of gratitude you will get to see the lesson that you can learn.