August 18 – The learning value of mistakes

August 18 – “The difference between greatness and mediocrity is often how an individual views a mistake.” (Nelson Boswell)

Mistakes happen. All of us make them frequently. I would even go so far as to say that I probably make mistake daily. How I view the mistakes, and what I do with the valuable lessons they teach, is what can set me apart from others, that is the crux of this quote.

If I view a mistake as a defeat, as a slap in the face, then I am defeated. If I view a mistake as a signal to turn back because I am in over my head, then I will either turn back or succumb to the error.

But, if I take each mistake along the way as a learning experience, and I draw from that mistake the knowledge to do better the next time around, then I will always be progressing. And when the mistakes and their lessons are great enough, and my resolve to learn from them is strong enough, then I will make larger steps forward, until I can attain a level of success, and even greatness.

I don’t think this quote is just limited to how I view my own mistakes. As a leader I must take the same approach with the mistakes by those I lead, or by the group collectively. If I am harsh with those around me when they make mistakes, then I will be creating an atmosphere where risks are not taken. The best way to avoid a mistake is to always do what you know well. Mistakes only occur when a person steps out of that cocoon of comfort and tries something new. But, if I use each mistake as an opportunity for learning and growth, then the circle can be expanded and the group can move forward with the individual.

Legend has it that when discussing the invention of the light bulb, and the fact that he had tried 10,000 ways to make one before finding a method that worked, Edison famously said “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Whether he actually coined that phrase or not is debatable, but what isn’t is that no matter how many times he tried and failed, he used each failure, each mistake, as an opportunity to learn and grow. His “wizards of Menlo Park,” didn’t sit back in the comfort of the known, they constantly challenged the state of the art to produce thousands of inventions to bring the world to the modern era.

Mistakes are going to happen. Today my reflection is on how I approach them, resolve them, and learn from them. And then, how I help those whom I lead to do the same.

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