Don’t just learn from mistakes — embrace them, book says

2011-06-03 00:00

ALINA Tugend made a mistake at work. Since she is a reporter, this meant issuing a public correction of an article. Afterwards, frustrated, she thought about the contrast between being taught from childhood about learning from mistakes, and the fact that, even so, most people still hate making them.

Her investigation into mistake avoidance, resulted in the book Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong. Tugend examined mistakes in general, mistakes across cultures, mistakes within companies, and how businesses where mistakes could be fatal make sure they reduce and avoid errors.

She looked at Wall Street and how mistakes contributed to the financial crisis. Other sections focus on systemic or repetitive mistakes, where the mistakes may be a clue to a larger, underlying issue.

"Research has shown that when we feel bad about ourselves and feel we can't change, we tend not to go back and look at our errors and learn from them. We try to avoid them and make ourselves feel better by putting down other people, or being defensive," she said. "When we feel open to learning from errors, we're more open to figuring them out."

Gradually, her thinking changed until she now sees mistakes as part of the risks that can lead to discovery — it's not the mistakes that are good, but what you learn from them.

"If we're being innovative and trying different things, we're more likely to make mistakes," she said. "So the opportunity is letting ourselves make mistakes, not making the mistake necessarily."

Tugend says she's learnt how to put them into better perspective — an important technique, with errors more likely to linger due to the Internet and social media. "The saying was that if you had an error in a newspaper, the next day it was at the bottom of a birdcage. Now it's somewhere out there in cyberspace," she said. "I think that … it creates more fear." — Reuters.

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